Archive for the ‘Drug smuggling’ Category

DPRK cracks down on drug markets

Friday, August 27th, 2010

According to the Daily NK:

An inside North Korean source has reported the launch of a renewed movement to expose and punish drug crime.

The source explained during a phone interview with The Daily NK on August 26th, “Starting August 20th, a compulsory public lecture has been given by National Security Agency personnel in each neighborhood office. Party instructions regarding a mass struggle to prevent drug and smuggling crime were introduced there.”

The lectures were attended by people’s unit members, with the exception of workers. It is standard practice for the same lecture to be given in work places separately.

The source added, “As the Chosun Workers’ Party Delegates’ Conference approaches, the number of cases in which National Security Agency agents are directing the education of citizens is increasing. Here, they emphasized that there will be strict legal action and punishment for those who take, sell or smuggle drugs in that jurisdiction.”

The People’s Safety Ministry has apparently also dispatched separate task forces to major cities along the Yalu River to hinder smuggling. They are currently trying to bring the border area under control.

The source reported, “Just within Hoiryeong there are 40 ‘task force’ personnel under the People’s Safety Ministry cracking down on illegal immigration and drug smuggling.”

The fact that North Korean citizens living in the border area regularly take drugs or engage in smuggling is not news.

The smuggling route between Sinujiu, Hyesan, Hoiryeong and Onsung to China came into being during the March of Tribulation in the late 1990s. Pharmacists and doctors started mass-producing methamphetamines (known locally as “Ice”) and sold it in China to survive, but now many, indeed some say most, foreign currency earning units are producing, distributing, and smuggling the drug.

Among the more affluent people living in the border area near the Tumen River, “Would you like some Ice?” is a common greeting. Many such people also take Ice as a painkiller, not least because it is among the few widely available drugs which can do the job. Furthermore, use of the drug has also spread to affluent teenagers, which is creating even more concern.

Currently, in major regional cities like Hamheung and Chongjin, one dose of Ice sells for between 3,000 and 5,000 North Korean won.

Read the full story here:
North Korea Launches Drugs Crackdown
Daily NK
Yoo Gwan Hee
8/27/2010

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China launches anti-drug smuggling boats on Yalu river

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

By Michael Rank

China has launched a fleet of patrol boats to combat drug trafficking on the North Korean border, a Chinese website reports.

The report shows pictures of the four boats, which are being deployed on a stretch of the Yalu river known as Badaojiang八道江, but gives few details.

The only drug named in the report is opium, which North Korea is reported to produce in large quantities. It says officers warn local people not to become engaged in drug smuggling by showing them pictures of opium and other banned substances.

“The creation of the anti-drugs speedboat force is not just a foundation in the people’s war against drugs, it also increases our strength in banning drugs on the river border and will be a force for us in building a harmonious border and in contributing to a drugs-free border,” an official from the new force is quoted as saying.

A separate Chinese newspaper report names a methamphetamine (known as magu 麻古) as another of the main drugs smuggled between North Korea and China, and says a haul of 13,775 magu pills, seized in winter 2004, was the largest amount of drugs ever confiscated by Dandong border guards. It says smuggling reached a peak in the years 2000-2006 and gives little information about the current situation, probably because this is politically too sensitive.

But it does mention the killing of three Chinese smugglers by North Korean border guards in June, and says the dead men were members of a gang led by a man known as Sun Laoer who controls much of the smuggling on one particular stretch of the Yalu. One man was injured in the incident, for which China demanded an apology. North Korea said it was “an accident”, while according to a Chinese television report the North Koreans suspected the smugglers of being South Korean spies.

The Chinese newspaper report says the main goods smuggled between China and North Korea are drugs, scrap metal, cigarettes, DVDs, chemicals and secondhand cars.

The most notorious gang was led by an individual called Jiang Weijia, who specialised in smuggling cigarettes and oil products from North Korea into China. Between June and December 1999 Jiang smuggled 45.8 million yuan worth of cigarettes. The gang was finally smashed in 2003.

The article in Southern Weekend, one of China’s more adventurous newspapers, also mentions human trafficking across the border. It says that “in 1996 you could exchange 50 jin [25 kg] of rice for a Korean daughter-in-law” and adds that the women had to pretend to be deaf and dumb since if they opened their mouths and were found to be from North Korea they would be sent straight back.

It notes that “world opinion suspects that North Korean government departments are covertly involved in smuggling on the Chinese-North Korean border, the reason being that in a country where power is highly concentrated, it would otherwise be almost impossible for large-scale smuggling to take place on the Yalu river border. But despite such suspicions, there is no complete proof.”

The report recalls how in the 1990s North Koreans, in the wake of the famine, would exchange scrap copper for rice at a rate of one kg of metal for one kg of rice and that many North Korean factories were stripped bare of all their metal fittings.

It also recalls how in the 1960s North Korea was richer than China, which suffered through years of Mao-induced famine, and people from Dandong would cross the Yalu at night in search of food.

“This shouldn’t be called smuggling, should it. People were bartering for food in order to survive,” it quotes one man as saying. It quotes another man as saying the border was largely unguarded until recently and when he was a boy (in the 1990s apparently) he would cross the frozen river in winter and North Korean guards would give him sweets.

The report says border trade with North Korea stopped during the Korean war, was revived in 1958 and faded during the Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s and 70s. It was officially revived in September 1981 with an agreement between China’s Liaoning province and North Korea’s Pyeong’an Bakdo. Most of the trade from the early 1980s consisted of China bartering oil for fish.

The article says China-Korean smuggling goes back centuries, and in the 1930s an area of Dandong near the river called Shahezi 沙河子 was a famous smuggling centre under the Japanese. It also says a Qing dynasty customs office has been restored in Jiuliancheng 九连城, some 20 km from Dandong, and the area remains a smuggling centre.

North Korea has been widely reported to be a significant producer of illicit drugs. The CIA World Factbook notes  that for years, from the 1970s into the 2000s, citizens of North Korea, many of them diplomats, were apprehended abroad while trafficking in narcotics and police investigations in Taiwan and Japan in recent years have linked North Korea to large illicit shipments of heroin and methamphetamine, including an attempt by the North Korean merchant ship Pong Su to deliver 150 kg of heroin to Australia in April 2003.

In 2004 the Jamestown Foundation published a report by a North Korean defector who says he “learned of and witnessed first-hand the drug trafficking activities of the North Korean regime” when he worked for the North Korean National Security Agency from 1983 until 1998.

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Room (Bureau) 38 allegedly restored

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

According ot the Choson Ilbo:

North Korea in March restored a special department in the Workers Party codenamed Room 38 which manages leader Kim Jong-il’s coffers and personal slush funds, it emerged Monday. The North last fall merged Room 38 with Room 39, which manages party slush funds.

“Rooms 38 and 39 were merged to simplify Kim Jong-il’s slush funds,” said a North Korean source. “But when it became difficult to secure hard currency due to international sanctions, Room 38 seems to have been restored because there was a feeling that Room 39 alone can’t meet the need.”

Room 38 is reportedly led by Kim Tong-il, who heads three regional departments in charge of earning hard currency.

Room 39 tries to maximize earnings from gold and zinc mining and farming and fisheries. It also manages stores and hotels exclusively for foreigners in Pyongyang. Room 39 seems to have suffered badly due to the recent suspension of inter-Korean trade. “Taesong Bank and Zokwang Trading, which received remittances from Mt. Kumgang tourism, are both controlled by Room 39, and is also in charge of the exports of agricultural and fisheries products,” said a government source.

Kim Jong-il needs dollars to maintain the party elite’s loyalty to him and his heir presumptive. He is said to have told party bigwigs in February, “From now on I will judge your loyalty based on the amount you contribute to the fund.” His son Jong-un is also said to be amassing separate slush funds for his own use.

But international sanctions on exports of weapons, counterfeit dollars, fake cigarettes and drugs remain in place, and the United States is pushing ahead with additional financial sanctions over the North’s sinking of the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan in March. Pyongyang was dealt a heavy blow in 2005 when the U.S. froze US$25 million in the Banco Delta Asia in Macao which was apparently for Kim’s personal use.

Kim earlier this year appointed his high school friend Jon Il-chun head of Room 39. Jon was also named chairman of the National Development Bank, established early this year with a view to conducting normal international financial transactions to induce foreign investment. “North Korea seems to be planning to divert part of foreign investment to Kim’s slush fund,” said a government official.

NK Leadership Watch has more

Read the full story here:
Kim Jong-il Restores Special Department to Swell Coffers
Choson Ilbo
6/24/2010

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PRC holds DPRK official on drug trafficking

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

According to the Choson Ilbo:

South Korean activist Do Hee-yoon quoting a source in China on Monday said that a 33-year-old official surnamed Rim from the Sinuiju city government’s trade bureau was arrested by Chinese police on charges of drug trafficking in Dandong on the evening of March 2.

“North Korean agents targeting South Korea have been arrested before for their involvement in drug trafficking, but it’s unprecedented for a senior government trade official to be arrested for direct involvement,” Do said. “The Dandong Customs Office has mobilized customs officials from Dalian to probe all aspects of North Korea-China trade.”

The drug enforcement bureau of Anshan in Liaoning arrested four drug dealers based on a tip that Dandong drug dealers gained control of the trafficking network in Anshan, he added.

Under questioning, they revealed that a key figure in the drug ring in the Dandong area was a North Korean and that he was soon to arrive. Officers arrested Rim in Dandong on the evening of March 2 about after a month-long stakeout and took him to Anshan.

The bureau confiscated 2 kg of top-quality methamphetamine Rim had hidden in a kimchi container when he traveled from Sinuiju to Dandong, Do said. Rim was reportedly a very influential man in the North Korea-China trade. Despite the danger, he had traveled to China to buy goods necessary for his younger sister’s wedding scheduled for March 6 and take bribes.

“It seems Rim took a lot of bribes. There are rumors that he was going to take three large truckloads of goods back to the North,” Do said. “Rim’s arrest confirms that the North engages in international drug trafficking at the state level,” he added.

A South Korean official said the government has similar information but China has not officially confirmed it.

Read the full story here:
N.Korean Official Held in China for Drug Trafficking
Choson Ilbo
6/8/2010

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Can North Korea be safe for business?

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

Geoffrey Cain writes in Time:

Few investors can boast the one-of-a-kind global pedigree of Felix Abt. Since 2002, the Swiss businessman has found his calling as a point man for Western investments in — of all places — North Korea, where he helped found the Pyongyang Business School in 2004. He also presided over the European Business Association in Pyongyang, a group in the capital that acts as a de facto chamber of commerce. A few years ago, that position led him to help set up the first “European Booth” featuring around 20 European companies each year at the Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair, an annual gathering of 270 foreign and North Korean companies currently underway in the hermit kingdom until Thursday.

Yet Abt, 55, who lives in Vietnam and therefore won’t be attending the trade fair this year, laments the giant cloud hanging over the country: in recent years, political turmoil on the peninsula has raised the stakes even further for doing business in North Korea — even for the country’s main patron, China. Though investors have always faced the prospect of sanctions, he says, the situation has worsened after the United States ratcheted up sanctions on the government in 2006 on allegations that it was counterfeiting U.S. dollars. And in 2006 and 2009 the Kim Jong-il regime tested two small nuclear bombs, prompting heavier sanctions from the United Nations in 2006. Recently, tensions with Seoul have spiked over the March sinking of a South Korean corvette in waters near the North.(See pictures of the rise of Kim Jong-il.)

Those measures hit home for Abt. While he was running a pharmaceutical company in Pyongyang called Pyongsu in the mid-2000s, he learned that the U.N. Security Council had imposed sanctions on certain chemicals — a move that could have forced him to completely stop manufacturing medicine. Thankfully, he adds, he had already secured a large stock of the substance beforehand. “Whatever business you are involved in,” he says, “some day you may find out that some product or even a tiny but unavoidable component is banned by a U.S. or U.N. sanctions because it can, for example, also be used for military purposes.”

Those dilemmas haven’t stopped Abt. In 2007, he co-founded an information technology firm in Pyongyang called Nosotek, whose 50 or so employees design software applications for the iPhone and Facebook. The venture has already seen its share of success: one of its iPhone games ranked first in popularity for a short while on Apple’s Top 10 list for Germany — though he can’t name the software out of concern for protecting his contractors from bad publicity.(See pictures of North Koreans at the polls.)

For some companies, the stigma of a “Made in North Korea” label matters less than the competitive edge gained from having low overhead costs and a diligent workforce whose wages remain less than outsourcing powerhouses like China, Vietnam and India. In the past, North Korea has attracted the interest of multinational corporations looking for cheap labor in fields as diverse as electrical machinery and cartoon animation. Yet few multinationals show their faces at this month’s fair, a decline from the early 2000s when Abt says they were appearing regularly to look for opportunities in electricity, infrastructure, transportation and mining.

Not all foreign ventures in the North are driven by profit margins alone. The 2005 animated Korean movie Empress Cheung, a popular fantasy film drawn jointly by South and North Korean animators, brought attention to the animation industry in North Korea. Nelson Shin, head of the Seoul-based animation studio that started the project, claims he worked with North Korea for a greater cause than cheap labor. “It wasn’t so much because of cost efficiency as because of cultural exchange between the two Koreas,” he says.

For a country so poor, North Korea has churned out a remarkable number of talented engineers and scientists who fuel some of these small sectors (along with its controversial nuclear weapons program). In the 1960s and 1970s, the government pushed the country to become self-sufficient through development projects, a part of its ideology of “Juche” that promotes absolute autonomy from foreign powers. The communist regime of Kim Il-sung prided itself on its universities and public housing system, in particular. “It was an advance from pre-World War II days,” says Helen-Louise Hunter, a former CIA analyst now in Washington, D.C., who researched North Korea during those decades. “Kim Il-sung was genuinely interested in improving his people’s standard of living, and was off to a good start in a couple of areas compared to South Korea in those early days.”

Yet North Korea fell behind after the South’s own military dictators put their country into industrial overdrive throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Then the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, depriving North Korea of valuable aid. Then came a famine in the mid-1990s that delivered the final blow, leaving up to 3 million people dead and crippling the capacities of the already isolated state.

Today, the pariah regime of Kim Jong-il is allegedly known to raise money through illicit activities like trafficking narcotics and money laundering. But it’s not known how much those activities figure into the country’s GDP of $28.2 billion in 2009 and its $2 billion worth of exports in 2008, the most recent year data is available. “Not that much income comes from illegitimate operations if you mean drugs and counterfeited dollars,” says Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Kookmin University in Seoul. “More come from arms sales, though, but I would not describe this as an illegitimate trade.”

Abt shakes off the image of Pyongyang being the center of a mafia state. He sees himself and other foreign investors as the potential movers and changers of Kim’s hermit regime. “Cornering a country is ethically more questionable than engagement,” he says. “Foreigners engaging with North Koreans are change agents. The North Koreans are confronted with new ideas which they will observe and test, reject or adopt.”

Read the full story here:
Can North Korea Be Safe for Business?
Time
Geoffrey Cain
5/20/2010

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The DPRK’s illicit international activities

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

The Strategic Studies Institute has published a paper on the DPRK’s illicit activities.  You can download the paper here (PDF). It has been added to my DPRK Economic Statistics page.  Here is the forward:

The authors of this monograph have exposed a key piece of the puzzle which helps to provide a better understanding of North Korea’s surreptitious international behavior. For years, North Korea’s military provocations have been obvious to the world, however, much of its decisionmaking is shrouded in secrecy, particularly that of a wide-range of clandestine activities. This monograph is unique in the way that it sheds light on the illicit activities of the regime, and how those illegal activities are used to support its military programs and the government itself.

From drug trafficking to counterfeiting, from money laundering to cigarette smuggling, North Korea’s Central Committee Bureau 39 is an active participant in the criminal economy of the region with tentacles extending well beyond Asia. The authors discuss how these activities have negative strategic consequences for a number of stakeholders and nations throughout the region while describing how such activities provide critical funding streams for military programs and regime supporters.

As a result, North Korea is not just a “rogue state,” but practices what is essentially criminal sovereignty whereby it organizes its illegitimate activities behind the shield of non-intervention while using the tools of the state to perpetrate these schemes abroad. The authors argue that this arrangement has important links to succession issues within the regime. They also argue that policy makers who are concerned with the development of future policies and strategies aimed toward North Korea must view those new policies from a different perspective than that used in the past.

This paper draws heavily on information from Kim Kwang-jin who is working at the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea. Without Mr. Kim’s contributions, much of this activity would remain unknown to us.  You can make a donation to support Mr. Kim’s work here in the US at this web page.

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Hermit economics hobbles Pyongyang

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

Aidan Foster-Carter writes in the Financial Times about some poor decision-making coming out of Pyongyang:

Great Leader? Pyongyang’s fawning hagiography not only grates, but is singularly unearned. Even by its own dim lights, North Korea’s decision-making is going from bad to worse.

Last year saw two spectacular own goals. Missile and nuclear tests were a weird way to greet a new US president ready to reach out to old foes. The predictable outcome was condemnation by the United Nations Security Council, plus sanctions on arms exports that are biting.

Domestic policy is just as disastrous. December’s currency “reform” beggars belief. Did Kim Jong-il really fail to grasp that redenomination would not cure inflation, but worsen it? Or that brazenly stealing people’s savings – beyond a paltry minimum, citizens only got 10 per cent of their money back – would finally goad his long-suffering subjects into rioting? Forced to retreat, officials even apologised. One scapegoat was sacked – and possibly shot.

By his own admission, Mr Kim does not do economics. In a speech in 1996, when famine was starting to bite, the Dear Leader whined defensively that his late father, Kim Il-sung, had told him “not to get involved in economic work, but just concentrate on the military and the party”.

That awful advice explains much. Incredibly, North Korea was once richer than the South. In today’s world, this is the contest that counts. “It’s the economy, stupid” is no mere slogan, but a law of social science.

Having taken an early lead, Kim senior threw it all away. He built the world’s fourth largest army, crippling an economy that he refused to reform, viewing liberalisation as betrayal. His own personality cult was and is a literally monumental weight of unproductive spending.

Used to milking Moscow and Beijing, in the 1970s North Korea borrowed from western banks – and promptly defaulted. That was not smart; it has had to pay cash up front ever since.

Pyongyang also resorts to less orthodox financing. In 1976 the Nordic nations expelled a dozen North Korean diplomats for trafficking cigarettes and booze. In December a Swedish court jailed two for smuggling cigarettes. More than 100 busts worldwide over 30 years, of everything from ivory and heroin to “supernotes” (fake $100 bills), leave scant doubt that this is policy.

Yet morality aside, it is stupid policy. Pariahs stay poor. North Korea could earn far more by going straight. The Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC), where South Korean businesses employ Northern workers to make a range of goods, shows that co-operation can work. Yet Pyongyang keeps harassing it, imposing arbitrary border restrictions and demanding absurd wage hikes.

Now it threatens to seize $370m (€275m, £247m) of South Korean assets at Mount Kumgang, a tourist zone idle since a southern tourist was shot dead in 2008 and the north refused a proper investigation. Even before that, Pyongyang’s greed in extorting inflated fees from Hyundai ensured that no other chaebol has ventured north. Contrast how China has gained from Taiwanese investment.

In this catalogue of crassness, the nadir came in 1991 when the dying Soviet Union abruptly pulled the plug on its clients. All suffered, but most adapted. Cuba went for tourism; Vietnam tried cautious reform; Mongolia sold minerals. Only North Korea, bizarrely, did nothing – except watch its old system crumble. Gross domestic product plunged by half, and hunger killed up to a million. Now famine again stalks the land. The state cannot provide, yet still it seeks to suppress markets.

All this is as puzzling as it is terrible. China and Vietnam show how Asian communist states can morph towards capitalism and thrive. Kim Jong-il may fear the fate of the Soviet Union if he follows suit. True, his regime has survived – even if many of its people have not. Yet the path he is on is patently a dead end. Mr Kim’s own ill-health, and a belated bid to install his unknown third son as dauphin, only heighten uncertainty. Militant mendicancy over the nuclear issue – demanding to be paid for every tiny step towards a distant disarmament, then backsliding and trying the same trick again – will no longer wash. North Korea has run out of road; the game is finally up.

What now? A soft landing, with Mr Kim embracing peace abroad and reform at home, remains the best outcome. But if he obdurately resists change, we need a plan B. The US and South Korea have contingency plans for the north’s collapse. So does China, separately. Tacit co-ordination is urgent, lest future chaos be compounded by a clash of rival powers – as in the 1890s. Koreans have a rueful proverb: when whales fight, the shrimp’s back is broken.

But Beijing will not let it come to that. China is quietly moving into North Korea, buying up mines and ports. Some in Seoul cry colonialism, but it was they who created this vacuum by short-sightedly ditching the past decade’s “sunshine” policy of patient outreach. President Lee Myung-bak may have gained the Group of 20 chairmanship, but he has lost North Korea.

Nor will Mr Kim nuzzle docile under China’s wing, though his son might. As ever, North Korea will take others’ money and do its own thing. In early 2010 new fake “super-yuan” of high quality, very hard to detect, started appearing in China. They wouldn’t, would they?

Read the full article here:
Hermit economics hobbles Pyongyang
Financial Times
Aidan Foster-Carter
3/30/2010 

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US State Department: 2010 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

The International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) is an annual report by the Department of State to Congress prepared in accordance with the Foreign Assistance Act. It describes the efforts of key countries to attack all aspects of the international drug trade in Calendar Year 2009. Volume I (PDF) covers drug and chemical control activities, and beginning on page 488, there is a profile on the DPRK:

North Korea

I. Summary
There is insufficient evidence to say with certainty that state-sponsored trafficking by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) has stopped entirely in 2009. Nonetheless, the paucity of public reports of drug trafficking with a direct DPRK connection suggests strongly that such high-profile drug trafficking has either ceased, or has been reduced very sharply. Trafficking of methamphetamine along the DPRK-China border continues. There are indications that international drug traffickers can purchase methamphetamine in kilogram quantities in some of the major towns on the Chinese side of the DPRK-China border. Other criminality involving DPRK territory, such as counterfeit cigarette smuggling and counterfeiting/passing of U.S. currency (supernotes), continues.

II. Status of Country
No confirmed instances of large-scale drug trafficking involving the DPRK state or its nationals were reported in 2009. This is the seventh consecutive year that there were no known instances of large-scale methamphetamine or heroin trafficking to either Japan or Taiwan with direct DPRK state institution involvement. From the mid- 1990s through to 2002/2003, numerous instances of narcotics trafficking involving DPRK persons and important state assets, such as sea-going vessels and military patrol boats, were recorded in Taiwan and Japan.

Press reporting suggests that methamphetamine trafficking along the DPRK-China border continues. These reports detail the activities of organized criminal groups arranging methamphetamine shipments to destinations in Asia from the major towns near the DPRK-China border (e.g., Dandong, Yanji).

III. Country Actions Against Drugs in 2009
Law Enforcement Efforts. The source of relatively small quantities of methamphetamine seized elsewhere in Asia can occasionally be traced back to the China-DPRK border area. Local press reports in Asia describe apprehensions of traffickers smuggling methamphetamine and indicate that arrangements to purchase that methamphetamine were made in towns near the China-DPRK border. These reports suggest that trafficking of methamphetamine continues along the China-DPRK border and they raise the question of whether or not local DPRK officials might be aware or even complicit in the drug trade. There is no clear evidence of a central role for DPRK state institutions in selling methamphetamine or organizing the trafficking of methamphetamine. Evidence of direct DPRK state involvement in drug trafficking to
Taiwan and Japan emerged regularly in the past.

Reports of non-narcotics related acts of criminality in the DPRK suggest that DPRK tolerance of criminal behavior may exist on a larger, organized scale, even if no large-scale narcotics trafficking incidents involving the state itself have come to light. Press, industry, and law enforcement reports of DPRK links to large-scale counterfeit cigarette trafficking in the North Korean Export Processing Zone at Rajiin (or Najin) continue. It is unclear the extent to which DPRK authorities are complicit in this illegal activity, although it is likely that they are aware of it, given the relatively high-profile media reports. In addition, counterfeit $100 U.S. notes called “supernotes” (because they are so difficult to detect), continue to turn up in various countries, including in the United States. There are reports, for example, of supernote seizures in San Francisco and a very large supernote seizure in Pusan, South Korea during 2008 and 2009. Supernotes are uniquely associated with the DPRK, but it is not clear if recent seizures are notes which have been circulating for some time, or if they are recently-counterfeited new notes.

Agreements and Treaties. The DPRK is a party to the 1988 United Nations (UN) Drug Convention, the 1961 UN Single Convention as amended by the 1972 Protocol, and the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances.

Cultivation/Production. For many years, it has been alleged that poppies are cultivated in the DPRK, with the opium converted into heroin and then trafficked by state organs for profit. However, it has not been possible to confirm such illicit cultivation, and there has not been a heroin trafficking incident with a DPRK connection for many years. There are also several known factories in the DPRK that could produce very pure heroin and methamphetamine drugs, and there have been cases of large-scale smuggling of pure methamphetamine drugs from the DPRK to Japan and Taiwan as recently as 2002.

IV. U.S. Initiatives and Programs
The Department of State has no evidence to support a clear finding that DPRK state narco-trafficking has either stopped or is continuing. The absence of any seizures linked directly to DPRK state institutions, especially after a period in which seizures of very large quantities of drugs regularly occurred, does suggest considerably less state trafficking, and perhaps a complete end to it.

On the other hand, press reports of continuing seizures of methamphetamine in Asia, which can be traced back to an apparent DPRK source, suggest continuing manufacture and sale of DPRK methamphetamine to criminal traffickers. Large-scale trafficking of counterfeit cigarettes from the DPRK territory also continues and suggests that enforcement against notorious organized criminality in the DPRK is lax.

It is likely that the North Korean government has sponsored narcotics trafficking and other criminal activities in the past. The Department of State has insufficient information to confirm that the DPRK-state is no longer involved in manufacture and trafficking of illicit drugs, but if such activity persists, it is certainly on a much smaller scale.

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Border crossing more expensie

Friday, February 19th, 2010

According to the Daily NK:

Since the redenomination on November 30 last year, the cost of crossing the Tumen River has risen as high as 10,000 Yuan on the back of tighter border regulations.

A source from North Hamkyung Province told the Daily NK on Thursday, “Since border security was strengthened in February, it has cost at least 10,000 Yuan to cross the border into China.” This is equal to around 400,000 North Korean won at the black market exchange rate, or $1400.

In 2006, the cost of crossing the Tumen River around Musan and Onsung in North Hamkyung Province was just 500 Yuan.

The reason is because now there is an alliance of brokers monopolizing the crossing business, and a number of regulations designed to both circumscribe the ability of citizens to cross and limit the relationship between guard companies and local citizens.

In the distant past, if people wanted to cross the river, they approached guards and haggled over the price directly. However, now people have to rely on professional brokers who put them in contact with guards and guides in China. One pays a price to the broker, who shares it with North Korean border guards and Chinese guides respectively at a ratio of 4:3:3.

The North Korean authorities designated the period from February 5th until Kim Jong Il’s birthday on the 16th as a period of “special vigilance,” handing down special instructions to strengthen the border guard and regulations covering migration in border cities.

According to a Daily NK source, this measure is primarily intended to limit the ability of those suffering since the redenomination to smuggle or cross the border to make money in China, as well as to regulate citizens in advance of Kim Jong Il’s birthday, which is customary.

The source emphasized, “Since December last year, the number of citizens using human networks in China to make money has been increasing. Therefore, agents of the National Security Agency and the People’s Safety Agency have been watching those people closely.”

The source further explained, “Now, the authorities are forcing border guards to observe each other in order to track down those doing business with brokers and border crossers. In January, in Yusun-dong, Hoiryeong, one company commander was dismissed after a platoon commander informed on him for assisting border crossers.”

In the mid-2000s, along the border near settlements such as Namyang, Sambong, and Jongsung in North Hamkyung Province, the authorities set up nail boards and extra barbed wire along the Tumen River in order to inhibit defection. However, as these physical measures were not as effective as hoped, in 2006 the authorities took to switching guard posts between different guard companies without notice and awarding a prize, membership of the Party, to guards who caught people crossing the border. These measures were designed to break down connections between individual guards and the local populace

Therefore, the source added, “These days, no border guards are helping people cross the river, and the cost is soaring.”

Read the full story here:
Tight Rules Make Border Costs Soar
Daily NK
Lee Sung Jin
2/19/2010

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DPRK diplos arrested for smuggling (again)

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

UPDATE:  According to the Boston Herald, the diplomats were sentenced to eight months in prison.

ORIGINAL POST: It is no secret that North Korean diplomats and embassies are self-financing.  In fact, they are profit earning and they must remit funds back to Pyongyang.  While this means that DPRK diplomatic relations are not a drain on the treasury, as is typically the case with other countries, it does mean that the DPRK’s official representatives are more likely to make headlines for their business dealings rather than political statements.

And so here is the latest installment in this saga from Reuters:

Swedish police have arrested two North Korean diplomats on suspicion of smuggling 230,000 cigarettes into the Nordic country, the Swedish Customs Office said Friday.

The pair, a man and a woman who have diplomatic status in Russia, were stopped by Swedish customs officers Wednesday morning as they drove off a ferry from Helsinki, the Finnish capital.

Customs officials discovered Russian cigarettes in the car driven by the couple, Swedish Customs spokeswoman Monica Magnusson told Reuters.

The two North Koreans claimed diplomatic immunity.

“They were accredited as diplomats in Russia, but had no accreditation in Sweden,” she said. “They were arrested on suspicion of smuggling.”

Magnusson added that the pair were still being held by Swedish police and that she was not aware of them having any contact with North Korean officials since their arrest.

Sweden’s Foreign Ministry said it had been informed of the arrests but would not comment directly on the matter, saying it was a criminal case and was being handled by the police.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Cecilia Julin said foreign diplomats are only immune from criminal prosecution in countries where they have been accredited with the authorities.

“If you come to Sweden and commit a crime, you’re just like any other foreign national,” she said.

Sweden is one of only seven countries to have an embassy in North Korea, treated by much of the world as a rogue state due to human rights abuses and its possession of nuclear weapons despite opposition by the international community.

The Foreign Ministry said the arrests were primarily a police matter, but that the North Korean embassy in Sweden was in contact with the ministry over the matter.

An official at the North Korean embassy in Stockholm said earlier he had no knowledge of the arrests.

North Korean diplomatic staff were expelled from Sweden and two other countries in 1976 after a “massive” smuggling scheme was uncovered.  According to Time Magazine (in 1976):

Not in years have so many diplomatic persona suddenly been declared non grata. In Oslo, members of North Korea’s diplomatic mission—three bureaucrats and a chauffeur—were given six days to pack up and get out. Foreign Ministry officials frostily informed North Korea’s Ambassador to Stockholm, Kil Jae Gyong, who is also accredited to Oslo, that he was no longer welcome in Norway. Similar scenes took place in Helsinki and Copenhagen, and as of last week, twelve North Korean embassy staffers had been unceremoniously ordered home to Pyongyang.

International politics had nothing to do with the abrupt action by the Scandinavian governments. What had happened was that North Koreans in all three countries* had been caught red-handed in a massive smuggling racket involving liquor, cigarettes and dope —apparently instigated by the financially hard-pressed government of President Kim II Sung. Officials in Norway estimated that their branch of the Kim gang had smuggled into the country at least 4,000 bottles of booze (mostly Polish vodka) and 140,000 cigarettes, which were then given surreptitiously to Norwegian wholesalers for distribution on the black market. In Denmark, the illegal goodies impounded so far included 400 bottles of liquor, 4.5 million cigarettes and 147 kilos of hashish, which police confiscated two weeks ago from two Danes who had just bought the drug from North Korean embassy staffers.

Personal Use. How long the North Koreans have been into smuggling as a sideline remains unclear, but Scandinavian officials have been closely watching their business dealings for about five months. In Norway, neighbors of the neat brick North Korean embassy in Oslo’s West End had long been puzzled by the constant movement of cars in and out of the compound and by the sight of mission staffers struggling in the backyard with huge mysterious boxes. In Denmark, customs officials got suspicious last month when the North Koreans imported 2.5 million duty-free cigarettes, allegedly for the “personal use” of one staffer.

The discovery of illegal activity by the North Koreans in Scandinavia may be only the iceberg’s tip. Five months ago in Cairo, Egyptian officials caught two North Korean diplomats with 400 kilos of hashish in their luggage. A North Korean official assigned to Malaysia has also been recalled after dealing in smuggled goods.

The North Koreans have protested their innocence, and mission staffers in Finland insisted that they would not leave the country. Nonetheless, Scandinavian officials have little doubt that the smuggling was ordered by Pyongyang as a desperate measure to help resolve the government’s horrendous financial crisis. Western experts estimate that North Korea, with a G.N.P. of only $4.5 billion, has a foreign debt of more than $2 billion, at least $500 million of which is owed to the capitalist world. North Korea not only maintains some 60 expensive missions abroad but also buys millions of dollars’ worth of advertising space in newspapers round the world every year to publicize the latest speeches of Kim II Sung. Faced with a severe shortage of hard Western currency, officials speculate, North Korean diplomats turned to smuggling to support their missions and pay for the ads, sending any excess profits home to Pyongyang.

The DPRK embassy has also been accused of smuggling in Pakistan.

Sometimes the DPRK embassy staff make “good” business decisions.

Good article here with further info (h/t OneFreeKorea).

2007 CRS report: Drug Trafficking and North Korea: Issues for U.S. Policy

You could probably write a series of books on the DPRK embassies in Russia and  China.

And just for the record: Sweden–the North Koreans are not the only ones doing this–everyone is.  When I lived in Europe over 15 years ago I talked with fellow teenagers about doing this!  If you want to increase people’s incomes, increase tax receipts, and lower the incomes of mobsters and bootleggers–lower your cigarette taxes!

Read the full stories here:
Diplomats arrested for cigarette smuggling
Reuters
Jens Hansegard
11/20/2009

SCANDINAVIA: Smuggling Diplomats
Time Magazine
11/1/1976

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