Archive for the ‘Drug smuggling’ Category

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


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
Jens Hansegard

SCANDINAVIA: Smuggling Diplomats
Time Magazine


Rising cost of narcotics in DPRK drives up home, market prices

Friday, November 20th, 2009

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No.09-11-20-1

The recent hike in narcotics prices in North Korea appears to be due to rising prices on homes and in markets.

According to Daily NK, “Recent narcotics prices have grown considerably,” and, “If narcotics prices rise, market prices rise across the board.”

As North Korean officials crack down on narcotics production and distribution, the availability of Philopon and other narcotics has been sharply reduced. This reduction in supply is driving up prices.

Drug prices in North Korea first jumped sharply in February of last year, as officials began cracking down on production centers in Hamheung and Pyeongseong.

These raids were said to sharply reduce narcotics production, and in the same month the price of one kilogram of “Ice” shot up to 1,000 won (approx. 2,700 USD), and then again to as much as 2,000 won in April. As soon as narcotics prices rose, housing prices also increased and the price of all factory-produced goods in markets went up. It is as if inside North Korea, the rise in narcotics prices causes the price of everything to increase.

As late as fall 2007, a kilogram of Philopon ran for 5 million won, and could be easily found by those who were looking. By 2008, however, as officials cracked down harder on Philopon producers and dealers, the price had risen exponentially.

Another factor impacting drug prices in North Korea is the sharply growing number of users in China. Despite the efforts of Chinese police, they have been unable to curb the growing flow of narcotics across the border and into the border regions.

In October 2009, one kilogram of Philopon ran from between 50-70 million won, depending on the quality. When smuggled into China, the drugs bring between 150-200 thousand yen (80-100 thousand DPRK won), which when exchanged for ROK currency equals between 30-40 thousand won.

In North Korea, drugs determine housing prices, with the most expensive house in an average city going for the price of one kilogram of Ice. Rising housing costs drive up prices in markets, so that now a kilogram of rice sells for 2200 won.

The price of rice generally falls after the harvest season, but this year remained relatively unchanged. In April of last year, food prices shot up from 2000 to 3000 won for a kilogram of rice, and while this was also related to food shortages, the rising cost of narcotics played a large role.

The reason narcotics prices have such an impact is due to the particular nature of drug sales in North Korea. Drug peddlers deal in cash with narcotics producers, but as cash can be hard to come by, these dealers put up houses as collateral before taking the drugs to China.

In addition, most Chinese renminbi and U.S. dollars circulating in North Korean markets are from the cross-border drug trade, and the fees charged by money-handlers in North Korean markets drive prices up considerably.


Bureau 39 update

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

Vanity Fair has published a lengthy article about the DPRK’s mysterious Bureau 39 which is allegedly behind a number of illicit activities such as counterfeiting US currency and cigarettes, smuggling drugs and bilking western insurance companies with fraudulent claims. The full article is worth reading here.  (h/t DPRK Studies)

Of immediate interest, here is the supposed location of Bureau 39 just south of the Grand People’s Study House:


Click image to enlarge

Here is a short excerpt:

Hamer’s three-year investigation—code-named Operation Smoking Dragon—began not with supernotes but with counterfeit cigarettes, which were being shipped by freight container from China into California ports by the millions. These, too, says Asher, originated in North Korea, and were the subject of a report by the Coalition of Tobacco Companies, one of whose investigators made an undercover visit, posing as a buyer, to North Korean factories in Pyongyang and the northeastern city of Rajin. These turn out fake Western brands, such as Marlboros, in such quantities that they generate as much as $720 million in gross revenue each year. Hamer set up a number of front operations to get inside the cigarette-smuggling business, and soon had many contacts who dealt with him as if he were a smuggler, too. In the spring of 2004, Hamer and his colleagues were asked by F.B.I. headquarters to see if they could acquire North Korean supernotes. One of Hamer’s best customers, Chao Tung “John” Wu, who eventually pleaded guilty to smuggling counterfeit currency, cigarettes, and narcotics, as well as conspiring to broker a deal for Chinese-made, shoulder-fired missiles, but died before he was sentenced, promised he could supply them with the help of a man who was a frequent visitor to North Korea—Wilson Liu. The notes were so good, Wu said at a secretly recorded meeting, “you can even go to Las Vegas and slide them into the machines—they take them right away.”


Tunnels, Guns and Kimchi: North Korea’s Quest for Dollars – Part II

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

Yale Global
Bertil Linter

BANGKOK: The global economic meltdown has claimed an unexpected victim: North Korea’s chain of restaurants in Southeast Asia. Over the past few months, most of them have been closed down “due to the current economic situation,” as an Asian diplomat in the Thai capital Bangkok put it. This could mean that Bureau 39, the international money-making arm of the ruling North Korean Workers’ Party – which runs the restaurants and a host of other, more clandestine front companies in the region – is acutely short of funds. Even if those enterprises were set up to launder money, operational costs and a healthy cash-flow are still vital for their survival. And, as for the restaurants, their main customers were South Korean tourists looking for a somewhat rare, comfort food from the isolated North of the country. The waitresses, all of them carefully selected young, North Korean women dressed in traditional Korean clothing, also entertained the guests with music and dance.

But thanks to the global economic crisis, not only has the tourist traffic from South Korea slowed, the fall in the value of won has also reduced their buying power. The South Korean won plummeted to 1,506 to the US dollar in February, down from 942 in January 2008. No detailed statistics are available, but South Korean arrivals in Thailand – which is also the gateway to neighboring Cambodia and Laos – are down by at least 25 percent.

Though staunchly socialist at home, the North Korean government has been quite successful in running capitalist enterprises abroad, ensuring a steady flow of foreign currency to the coffers in Pyongyang. North Korea runs trading companies in Thailand, Hong Kong, Macau and Cambodia, which export North Korean goods – mostly clothing, plastics and minerals such as copper – to the region. At the same time, they import various kinds of foodstuffs, light machinery, electronic goods, and, in the past, dual-purpose chemicals, which have civilian as well as military applications. Those companies were – and still are – run by the powerful Daesong group of companies, the overt arm of the more secretive Bureau 39.

North Korea embarked on its capitalist ventures when, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the country was hit by a severe crisis caused by the disruption in trading ties with former communist allies. More devastatingly, both the former Soviet Union in 1990 and China in 1993 began to demand that North Korea pay standard international prices for goods, and that too in hard currency rather than with barter goods. According to a Bangkok-based Western diplomat who follows development in North Korea, the country’s embassies abroad were mobilized to raise badly needed foreign exchange. “How they raised money is immaterial,” the diplomat says. “It can be done by legal or illegal means. And it’s often done by abusing diplomatic privilege.”

North Korea’s two main front companies in Thailand, Star Bravo and Kosun Import-Export, are still in operation. In the early 2000s, Thailand actually emerged as North Korea’s third largest foreign trading partner after China and South Korea.

Bangkok developed as a center for such commercial activities and Western intelligence officers based there became aware of the import and sale of luxury cars, liquor and cigarettes, which were brought into the country duty-free by North Korean diplomats. In a more novel enterprise, the North Koreans in Bangkok were reported to be buying second-hand mobile phones – and sending them in diplomatic pouches to Bangladesh, where they were resold to customers who could not afford new ones. In early 2001, high-quality fake US$100 notes also turned up in Bangkok and the police said at the time that the North Korean embassy was responsible as some of its diplomats were caught trying to deposit the forgeries in local banks. The North Korean diplomats were warned not to try it again.

The restaurants were used to earn additional money for the government in Pyongyang – at the same time, they were suspected of laundering proceeds from North Korea’s more unsavory commercial activities. Restaurants and other cash-intensive enterprises are commonly used as conduits for wads of bills, which banks otherwise would not accept as deposits.

For years, there have been various North Korean-themed restaurants in Beijing, Shanghai and other Chinese cities. But the first in Southeast Asia opened only in 2002 in the Cambodian town of Siem Reap. It became an instant success – especially with the thousands of South Korean tourists who flocked to see the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat. It was so successful that Pyongyang decided to open a second venue in the capital Phnom Penh in December 2003. A fairly large restaurant in the capital’s Boulevard Monivong, which offered indifferent Korean staple kimchi and other dishes and live entertainment by North Korean waitresses, closed earlier this year for lack of business.

In 2006, yet another Pyongyang Restaurant – as the eateries were called – opened for business in Bangkok. It was housed in an impressive, purpose-built structure down a side alley in the city’s gritty Pattanakarn suburb, far away from areas usually frequented by Western visitors but close to the North Korean embassy and the offices of its front companies in the Thai capital. This was followed by an even grander restaurant in Thailand’s most popular beach resort, Pattaya, which was also housed in a separate building with a big parking lot outside for tour buses. A much smaller Pyongyang restaurant opened in Laos’s sleepy capital Vientiane, but that one became popular not with South Korean tourists, but with Chinese guest workers and technicians. The Vientiane restaurant may be the only North Korean eatery that is still in operation.

After years of watching North Korea’s counterfeiting and smuggling operations, the United States began tightening the screws on Pyongyang’s finances in September 2005. This occurred after Banco Delta Asia, a local bank in Macau, was designated as a “financial institution of primary money-laundering concern.” The bank almost collapsed, and North Korea’s assets were frozen. The money was eventually released as part of an incentive for North Korea’s concession in the Six-Party talks and returned to North Korea via a bank in the Russian Far East. But, coupled with UN sanctions, the damage to North Korea’s overseas financial network was done – including the ability of Pyongyang’s many overseas front companies to operate freely. For example, the two-way trade between Thailand and North Korea peaked at US$343 million in 2006 – but then began to decline. It was down to US$100 million in 2007, and US$70.8 million in 2008.

Now with North Korea conducting a second nuclear test and firing off missiles, Washington has raised the possibility of the re-listing of North Korea as a state that supports terrorism. If that were to happen, many private companies would become hesitant to deal with Pyongyang and its enterprises for fear of being blacklisted by the US Treasury.

With its various money-making enterprises coming unstuck, Pyongyang is increasingly under pressure. The worldwide financial crisis has already put North Korea in a tight corner. There was never anything to suggest that the money earned by North Korea’s economic ventures abroad were to be used for social development at home, or to be spent on basic necessities such as putting food on the tables of the country’s undernourished people. Now, there won’t even be food for sale to South Korean tourists in the region.


DPRK not about to collapse

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

Newsweek has an interesting article which makes the case that the DPRK economy is not as bad as the public tends to think.  According to the article:

…North Korea isn’t broke—and its economy has been moving away from collapse in recent years-. The Hermit Kingdom may not be getting rich—the CIA estimates its GDP at roughly $40 billion, ranking 96th in the world. But it’s not failing either, and for the past decade, its economy has grown at an average rate of about 1.5 percent a year, according to South Korean statistics. While Seoul estimates that the North’s GDP shrank by 2.3 percent last year, some analysts say it actually expanded, arguing that South Korea’s recent figures on the North are deflated for political purposes.

To understand how the Dear Leader has managed this, you must first drop a few of the myths surrounding his country. First, the North Koreans haven’t been living in caves for the past two decades, nor is their economy de-industrializing, as is sometimes reported. Instead, with help from Beijing, Pyongyang has revamped its outdated infrastructure in recent years and repaired the mining facilities that were battered by massive floods during the mid-’90s. It now aims to shift from recovery to growth, with a focus on steel production, mining and light-industrial manufacturing.

Second, the North doesn’t have to rely on the black market to support itself. True, Pyongyang has sold missiles to Iran, Syria and Pakistan, and annual revenue from such exports is roughly $100 million, but analysts say that other illicit activities like drug trafficking and counterfeiting add very little to that sum. According to a former U.S. diplomat in East Asia who asked not to be named discussing sensitive intelligence, during the Bush years Washington investigated the oft-heard counterfeiting accusations, and found that the notes in question had actually been produced privately by former Chinese military officials, in China. “The Treasury Department couldn’t find a single shred of hard evidence pointing to North Korean production of counterfeit money,” the American says.

The biggest myth is that North Korea remains isolated. Despite supposedly comprehensive sanctions, Pyongyang today has diplomatic and commercial relations with more than 150 countries, including most European Union members. North Korea trades its abundant gold reserves—estimated at 1,000 to 2,000 tons—in cities like London, Zurich and Hong Kong, and buys and sells shares on the New York Stock Exchange via a legitimate London-based brokerage firm it essentially owns. While there are no figures on the volume of such transactions, the former U.S. diplomat says that such activities are “a substantial source of hard currency for North Korea.” In recent years, European firms have also begun eyeing investment opportunities there; In 2004, the London-based energy firm Aminex signed a 20-year deal with Pyongyang for exclusive rights to explore on- and offshore oil-and-gas deposits. Other companies are looking for ways to exploit the North’s cheap labor supply, and while most of these deals have yet to take off for technical and political reasons, ties to the outside world are expanding. In 2008, the country’s overall trade rose 30 percent from the previous year, reaching a record $3.8 billion, including imports of $2.7 billion, according to Seoul’s Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency.

North Korea has proved adept at avoiding restrictions: when Tokyo slapped it with sanctions five years ago, Pyongyang simply reshuffled its deals, turning to the BRIC economies as well as South Korea and Singapore. Meanwhile, China now accounts for nearly three quarters of North Korea’s total trade, sending it crude oil, petroleum and manufactured goods in exchange for coal, steel and rare metals like tungsten and magnesite. The North’s natural resources have become a major growth engine: the Musan mine in the country’s northwest is now said to be one of the largest iron-ore fields in Asia, and could eventually yield 10 million tons of ore a year.

Finally, there’s the southern connection. Despite deteriorating relations between Seoul and Pyongyang, factories at the joint Kaesong Industrial Complex are still operating at full gear, earning the North about $35 million annually—enough for eight or nine No-dong missiles. And that figure was projected (before the current crisis hit) to jump to $100 million by next year, says Lim Eul Chul of Seoul’s Kyungnam University.

I should point out that the CIA estimate of the DPRK’s GDP is among the highest.  Most other estimates are below $30 billion for 2008.

Read the full article here:
How Kim Affords His Nukes: The myth of a failing economy.


Petrov on DPRK-Australian relations

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

The Nautilus Institute has published an aritcle by Leonid Petrov on 60 years of Australian/DPRK relations.

Topics covered: on again/off agian diplomatic history, Australian foreign policy, bilateral relations, DPRK engagement with Australia, Pong Su (drug smuggling), denuclearization, economic sanctions, DPRK canberra embassy closing.

You may read the article on line here.

You may download a PDF of the article here: petrov-australia-dprk.pdf


DPRK drug smuggling well established

Saturday, September 6th, 2008

According to the Daily NK, the drug smuggling in the DPRK has matured from a small scale disorganized enterprise into a into a high-powered cartelized industry.  Whereas in the past, competition from lots of smugglers led to higher crime levels, cartelization has calmed things down.  Additionally, powerful cadres are involved in the trade now, meaning many local officials are powerless or disinterested in interfering with the trade.

As for the prices:

Mr. Kim explained specifically that “In 2006, one kilogram of Bingdu (氷毒), which means Philopon, so called ‘ice’ in North Korea, sold at 1.2-1.5 million won (approx. USD375-469) and one kilogram of opium sold at five million won (approx. USD1,563). As the regulation of narcotics was strengthened in 2007, one kilogram of Bingdu went up to eighteen million won (approx. USD5,625) and opium sold for ten million won (approx. USD3125) in September, 2007.”

He added that “Until 2006, the most expensive house in the downtown of a provincial capital sold for eight million won, but after drug prices rose, the price of those houses went up to fifteen million won (approx. USD4,688). Currently, here in North Hamkyung Province, one kilogram of ‘Bingdu’ sells for ten thousand dollars and opium sell for five thousand dollars. The prices of houses of the highest quality also rose from two thousand to three thousand won.

Read the full article here:
Drug Smugglers in Collusion with Cadres
Daily NK


DPRK stiffens drug laws

Friday, May 16th, 2008

From the Daily NK:

“The North’s adoption of partial open door policy has resulted in the rapid spread of western culture into the society, which could trigger the collapse of socialist ideology and regime. So, as part of efforts to prevent the collapse, the North adopted a series of amendments to its criminal laws,” explained Choi.

“In March 2008, North Korea introduced another amendment according to which individuals charged with drug possession are to be sentenced to death by shooting because drug use has been increasing among people suffering from the lack of basic necessities and medicine despite the state’s strict drug control,” said Choi.

According to the 2004 amendment, North Korea sentences those charged with drug manufacturing to two to five years in the labor reeducation camp (Article 216), those with drug use to up to two years in the labor-training corps (Article 217), and those with drug trafficking and sales to either up to five years in the labor camp (Article 218).

“The amendment of March 2008 further stiffened penalties against drug offenders. Individuals found to be possessing more than 300 grams of drug are to be sentenced to death penalty,” Choi said, “In addition, North Korea which did not have sufficient legal grounds to punish individuals involved with new types of offenses including making international phone calls, possessing copies of foreign pictures and smuggling now appears to have strengthened legal punishment against them.”

The passage of these statutes is probably as close as the DPRK government will get to admitting that markets for recreational drug use are firmly established.  Stiffening drug laws will make no difference to the dissipation of the state’s socialist ideology, but North Korea’s drug cartels will certainly benefit.

The Economics of Cartels

In a competitive market, it is difficult to maintain a cartel.  Cartels work by restricting output to raise prices.  The problem is that once everyone in the cartel has done so, each individual member has an incentive to sell more than his quota to capture those artificially high profits.  After everyone figures out how to do this, the cartel falls apart and prices return to their competitive equilibrium.

So how can cartel members be relied on to maintain their production quotas and not cheat/sabotage each other?  Many times this is done by group acquiescence to government statutes and regulations.  Restrictions on prices, services, quality standards…these can all be used to protect incumbent firms by driving up costs for smaller competitors, and what’s more, the government pays for the enforcement.

And now for the conspiracy theory 

If there is not already a cartel of “companies” or families seeking to corner the DPRK drug market, there soon will be.  Stiffening criminal penalties for drug production simply raises the costs of small-scale producers and distributors, forcing them out of the market because they cannot afford protection/bribes.  This helps the big guys, who can afford these services, to maintain their price premium.

No doubt the groups coming to dominate the drug trade had representatives involved in making sure these statutes were changed (meaning they are now sufficiently politically connected to protect themselves).  What will be the effects on crime?  Well, if the cartel members keep to their agreements, crime could drop, and police would only be used to break up non-cartel operations.

Small-scale producers will respond by shifting into “high quality, low volume” drugs (much like in prohibition when smugglers carried liquor over beer and wine). 

Thoughtful comments appreciated. 

Read the full story here:
North Korea Has Introduced Amendments to Its Criminal Codes to Save the Regime from Falling Apart
Daily NK
Yang Jung A


Defector detained for drug smuggling

Thursday, November 15th, 2007

Joong Ang Daily
Brian Lee

A North Korean defector has been charged and detained for trying to smuggle North Korean-made Philopon, an illegal stimulant, into the country, the Incheon District Prosecutors’ Office said yesterday.

Identified only by his last name, Park, the 38 year-old tried to receive the drugs in a package mailed from China that was intercepted at Incheon International Airport, prosecutors said in a release.

Customs officials who monitor the incoming packages discovered 47 grams of the drug.

The package was addressed to Park; investigators arrested him on Wednesday. The package bore a Chinese address for the sender but Park told investigators that the drugs were manufactured in Chongjin, North Hamgyong Province in North Korea and delivered through another North Korean he had contacted in China.

Park defected to South Korea in January 2002 and established a small trading company doing business with Japan, China and Russia.

He told investigators that a member of a Japanese criminal group had asked to become a supplier of the drugs. The package was supposed to be a sample. Park also said he had already wired 3 million won ($3,200) to a bank in China for the other North Korean.


An affiliate of 38 North