According to Good Friends:
Hyesan City police officers in the Ryanggang Province are still doing well amidst North Korea’s economic chaos which has been further exacerbated by the government’s recent currency reform. Illegal trade in Hyesan, which is close to the national border, is rampant and particularly connected to the sale of drugs as well as rare metals, such as gold, silver, copper, iron, et cetera that are under tight government control. While some smuggling operations are managed by individual venders, most are large-scale enterprises. Bribery has thus become customary since sending and receiving prohibited items requires the aid of police or security officers. As a result, obtaining such positions in Hyesan has become very competitive; in particular, many Ryanggang Province officers have been applying for transfers, with bribes being exchanged in the process.
In order to become police or security officer in Hyesan a candidate must offer a bribe of at least one million won in the new currency. This may be a large sum of money; however, it’s only a matter of time before officers recoup their investment by taking in bribes from the smugglers. A smuggling or drug case that may be considered big in other regions can be resolved fairly easily if the right security officials are involved. Last September, a reputed drug trafficker who was arrested on drug related offenses was released within days after being declared innocent of charges. Although an order for intensifying drug regulations had been issued across the country, money clearly had priority.
Such corruption is encouraged by a society-wide permissiveness that doesn’t make a big deal out of anything unless it has to do with ideology issues. Simply speaking, if an incident is not “related to espionage,” then it is not a big deal. Rather, releasing culprits in exchange for money is regarded as a way of surviving during difficult times. Since corruption has become routine, neither officers nor smugglers seems to have a sense that what they are doing is wrong. The same goes for the people at large. For example, although officers are prohibited from possessing and riding personal motorbikes, those who do not own their own are often looked down upon by citizens; they believe that such officers must be slow-witted for not having one being in the position that they are. Along with the jeering is a healthy dose of envy.
If the officers take bribes from smugglers to look the other way, the wives of officers use their husbands’ status to actually join in the fray. They send articles to and receive prohibited items from China; they money they earn from such smuggling activities actually surpass the amount their husbands earn through bribes. Even if the wives are caught, the husbands step in to make the problem go away. The money a husband-wife team earns in this way surpasses the imagination of ordinary people. In Hyesan, there is a saying that only police officers have withstood the currency reform tsunami without breaking a sweat. Others say that “all the laws enacted by the government only serve to fill the bellies of the police officers.”