Archive for the ‘International trade’ Category

Choco Pies in North Korea (UPDATED)

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015


Pictured above (Source here): A Choco Pie wrapper in Pyongyang (October 2014)

UPDATE 6 (2015-7-14): The Daily NK reports that the DPRK’s ‘Choco Pie’ knock-off falls far short:

Daily NK has obtained a North Korean snack rolled out to squash demand for a popular South Korean treat that had first become a sensation among factory workers in the inter-Korean industrial complex and spread across the country. Known as ‘Chocolate Danseolgi,’ the snack displays a striking resemblance with the much-loved South Korean ‘Choco Pie’.

The new treat is said to have been produced to cut off fantasies about the capitalist world its workers may harbor.


Starting last month, North Korea has been providing its Kaesong factory workers with ‘Danseolgi’, according to a source who has ties with the North and passed on the new snack to Daily NK on the condition of anonymity. This comes after Pyongyang banned supplies of the famed ‘Choco Pie’ within the industrial complex last year, as they were being sold by the workers on the black market for good returns and gaining greater popularity across the country.

The South Korean ‘Choco Pie’ snack was first introduced to Kaesong workers in 2006. Due to its soaring popularity, many had come to develop a sense of curiosity or fantasies about the South, the source said. Seeing the chocolate cake snack with marshmallow filling win over so much love, Pyongyang set out to create an alternative in the hopes of choking off demand.

Last year, after banning ‘Choco Pie’ supplies, the North tried to force South Korean firms to provide its factory workers with a home-grown chocolate double-layered cake snack, and this year in March, it even rolled out a chocolate coated rice cake treat also similar to an existing South Korean product.

Despite these efforts, local goods have failed to take off, as Kaesong workers are already acquainted with tastes from South Korea and are only eating the ‘Danseolgi’ as they have no other choice, according to the source.

The treat is one of the “latest products” put out for Kaesong workers. “It was smuggled out of the country by way of a North Korean trader in the Rason Economic Special Zone who works with Chinese traders,” she explained.

“Currently in the North, the ‘Chocolate Danseolgi’ is being distributed to workers as supplies, and they’re not sold on North Korea’s regular markets,” she asserted. Every last ingredient used to make the snack, from the butter to the chocolate, is imported from China.

Predictably, Kaesong workers invariably far prefer the taste of the original chocolate snack from South Korea, the source said, adding, “North Korea will never be able to produce the South’s Choco Pie.”

One of Daily NK’s reporters who tried out the North Korean ‘Danseolgi’ described the snack as “decidedly lacking in chocolate flavor ” and “being overwhelmingly pungent of butter.” The wrapper claims to include marshmallow in the product, but our taste tester reported any semblance of its texture to be nonexistent and noted that the cake itself is incredibly prone to crumbling.

UPDATE 5 (2015-6-9): DPRK asks that all South Korean food served in the KIC be replaced by North Korean substitutes. According to Voice of America:

North Korea has asked South Korean businesses at the Kaesong industrial complex to replace all foodstuffs given to its workers at the inter-Korean park with North Korea-made products.

A representative of the South Korean businesses, who visited the complex Tuesday, told VOA’s Korean Service that South Korean companies began distributing North Korean substitutes for popular South Korean food supplies to the North Korean workers as early as March. Almost all South Korea-made food products have now been replaced with North Korean products.

Choco Pie, a popular South Korean snack cake, also has been replaced with a similar North Korea-made sweet. The chocolate covered cake with marshmallow filling has become one of the most popular items in the North’s black markets. Other North Korea-made foodstuffs given to the workers include instant noodles with chicken broth and condiments.

In an attempt to keep South Korean foodstuffs from the complex, the North is imposing an additional business tax on the companies for bringing in South Korea-made products. About 50 South Korean businesses supplying food for the complex face bankruptcy, according to representatives of the South Korean businesses.

Some business owners have expressed concern about the quality of North Korean foodstuffs. One representative said some workers are suffering from food poisoning after the switch.

A South Korean official who asked to remain anonymous told VOA the North Korean move is aimed at blocking the flow of South Korean products into the North and earning foreign currency.

South Korean companies have been providing about $60 per month in snacks to each North Korean worker. With approximately 53,000 workers at the complex, Pyongyang can now garner up to $3 million every month from the snack sales.

UPDATE 4 (2014-9-24): According to the Daily NK, workers in the KIC are receiving a different dessert than the Choco Pie now. Also, the Kumunsan Company is producing substitute goods, and they are winning over consumers:

[…] the once popular South Korean snack Choco Pie is seeing a decline in its asking price. In June, Pyongyang demanded that South Korean companies at the industrial complex stop distributing Choco Pies to workers there, as officials had found it problematic that North Korean workers were saving the snacks and selling them in the markets. More recently, the northern workers have been receiving Chaltteok Pie (찰떡) [a chocolate covered rice cake from the South], individually packaged coffee, yulmucha (율무차)[grainy tea made with Job’s Tears], and candy bars.

“In Pyongyang, at the ‘Geumeunsan Trade Company,’ (금운산, Kumunsan Trade Corporation) they have been baking bread for about a year,” the source said, adding, “Of all the different kinds of bread, the most popular are the ones with butter inside, and they are less than 1000 KPW– much cheaper than Choco Pie.”

The trade company is an affiliate of the Military Mobilization Department [Military Manpower Administration in South Korea], which deals with the procurement of military supplies among its many functions. They either directly import the goods or obtain them from military factories in various locations across the country, and oversee the manufacturing of military equipment and machinery.

Geumeunsan Trade Company maintains branches in multiple areas, including Rasun and Cheongjin, and the office in Pyongyang imports ingredients such as flour, sugar, and cooking oil directly from China. According to the source, the raw material prices are cheaper than in the  North’s markets, and the products taste good, allowing it to monopolize the confectionery market there.

“The company has brought in foreign equipment and technology, putting it ahead of the South’s Choco Pie in price and taste,” he said, concluding, “This is why with the introduction of these different breads in Pyongyang, the price of Choco Pie [from the South] has dropped to 500 KPW from 1,200 KPW.”

See also this story in Radio Free Asia.

Read the full story here:
Kaesong Goods Fetch Highest Market Prices
Daily NK
Seol Song Ah

UPDATE 3 (2014-7-1): Media reports claim that the DPRK has banned the use/possession of Choco Pies in the Kaesong Industrial Complex. According to the Washington Post:

By some estimates, as many as 2.5 million Choco Pies were traded monthly — though it’s unclear who exactly was so assiduously following Choco Pie markets.

Regardless of its volume, the trade will now surely be shrinking.

According to recent reports in the South Korean press, North Korean authorities have now banned the South Korean-produced Choco Pie at the Kaesong Industrial Complex following a lengthy crackdown on the chocolate treat that has made it scarce in Pyongyang.

Before, workers could pocket as many as 20 pies every night of work. But now, South Korean factory staff said they’ll instead get sausages, instant noodles, powdered coffee or chocolate bars as a bonus.

More information here and here.

UPDATE 2 (2013-9-20): Is the DPRK manufacturing a counterfeit Choc Pie? According to the Daily NK:


Pictured Above: Ryongsong Foodstuff Factory, Ryongsong District, Pyongyang (Google Earth)

The price of a North Korean own-brand “Choco Pie” fell to just 500 won in domestic markets following news that the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) was to reopen, Daily NK has learned. The local version of the chocolate snack, which is made by Orion in South Korea, had previously risen to 3000 won on the back of the protracted KIC closure.

A source in Pyongyang reported to Daily NK on the 19th, “Sometime around May, Yongseong [Ryongsong] Foodstuff Factory in Pyongyang started selling ‘Choco Pies’ in the markets. People hadn’t seen a Choco Pie since Kaesong stopped, so their reaction was really something.”

“People were surprised because the packets said ‘Choco Pie’ and ‘Choco Rice Cake’ [a similar product with a glutinous rice center], and they couldn’t tell the difference between them and those from the ‘neighborhood below’ [South Korea] unless they checked closely,” the source went on. “Sure, people could tell they weren’t the real thing as soon as they ate them, but they were still pretty satisfied.”

According to the source, after South Korean Choco Pies disappeared from North Korean markets following the closure of the KIC, domestic traders started looking into importing the original South Korean and similar Chinese versions of the popular treat. However, the cost and difficulty of doing so meant that very few ended up crossing the border.

Therefore, attention turned to domestic production. The source explained, “Production volumes were low at first, and the state tried to control the flow of the product into the markets. They were 500 won a piece at the end of the first month; but that had risen to 3000 won by the end of last month. But the price sank back down upon news of the KIC re-start.”

“As soon as Choco Pies stopped coming out of the KIC, Yeongsong Foodstuffs Factory moved quickly and must have made quite a bit of money,” he guessed. “They were trying to imitate the South Korean pies but the product was way too sweet, which is partly why the price collapsed on the news of Kaesong.”

Only 60% (32,000) of the pre-closure North Korean workforce (53,000) returned to work when the KIC re-opened for a “trial run” on September 16th. At the same time, South Korean businesses, many facing financial difficulties after five months of nonproductive shutdown, have reportedly reduced the quantity of Choco Pies and other snacks previously distributed to workers. It is unclear what effect these circumstances could have on the price of goods flowing out of the KIC over the longer term.

Read the full story here:
NK Choco Pie Price Falls on KIC News
Daily NK

UPDATE 1 (2011-10-31): According to the Daily NK, North Korean management in the Complex requested back in August that South Korean businesses stop offering ‘Choco-pies’ (a South Korean snack) to North Korean workers and give them cash instead.

ORIGINAL POST (2009-5-20): Donald Kirk has a must-read article in today’s Asia Times on the subtle ways that the Kaesong Industrial Zone is undermining Pyongyang’s control over the North Korean people.  He points out that the DPRK’s verbal attacks on South Korea, combined with demands for new land, labor, and road use contracts in the Kaesong complex, are an attempt to blame South Korea when Kim Jong-il finally closes the project.

Quoting from the article:

Think Choco Pie, the thick wafer-like confection, all pastry and cream, served in the Kaesong Industrial Complex as a daily dessert for the 40,000 North Koreans who toil for 100 South Korean companies with factories in the complex.

“North Koreans love Choco Pie,” said Ha Tae-keung, president of NK Open Radio, which beams two hours of news daily into North Korea from its base in Seoul. “It’s an invasion of the stomach.”

North Korean workers, and the friends and family members for whom they save their daily treats, may salivate over Choco Pie, but it’s giving a severe stomach ache to senior officials fearful of the infiltration of South Korean culture in all corners of their Hermit Kingdom.

Choco Pie – along with other favorite South Korean cakes and candies as well as instant coffee – has come to symbolize the image of the capitalist South as a multi-tentacle beast that may be impossible to digest.

For Kim Jong-il, suffering from diabetes, recovering from a stroke and hoping to survive a few more years while grooming his neophyte youngest son, in his mid-20s, to succeed him, the best way to deal with the Kaesong complex, 60 kilometers north of Seoul and just above the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas, may be to spit it out.

It’s for this reason, said Ha, that North Korea has precipitously scrapped the agreements under which South Korean companies operate in the complex, built and managed by Hyundai Asan, an offshoot of the sprawling South Korean Hyundai empire.

“He’s come to see Kaesong as a burden rather than an asset, and is inclined to shut it down,” said Ha.

While the Kim Jong il government focuses its attention on cultural infiltration from the South, there appears to be little it is doing, or can do, about cultural infiltration from China–the DPRK’s most significant trading and political partner to the north:

When it comes to South Korean cultural infiltration, however, North Korea has far more to fear from the entry of goods from China than from the Kaesong complex. South Korean DVDs and CDs, even soft-core porn movies made in the South, are now distributed surreptitiously throughout North Korea. Electronic gadgetry, MP3 and MP4 players, TV sets, radios and rice cookers, also shipped via China, are also available for those with the money to pay for them.

Read the full article here:
Pyongyang chokes on sweet capitalism
Asia Times
Donald Kirk


China-DPRK border trade zone approved in Dandong

Monday, July 13th, 2015

According to Xinhua:

A border trade zone between China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), located in northeast China’s Liaoning Province, has been approved, the provincial government announced on Monday.

According to the city’s foreign trade bureau, the Guomenwan border trade zone covers 40,000 square meters of land in the border city of Dandong. It is expected to open in October.

Residents living within 20 kilometers of the border will be able to exchange commodities with people from the DPRK and enjoy a duty-free policy on goods purchased for less than 8,000 yuan (1,288 U.S. dollars) per day, authorities with the bureau said.

Dandong is the key hub for trade, investment and tourism between China and the DPRK. There are more than 600 border trade enterprises in the city, and trade with the DPRK accounts for 40 percent of the city’s total trade turnover.

Read the full story here:
China-DPRK border trade zone approved


Production at Kaesong Industrial Complex up in 2015

Thursday, July 9th, 2015

According to Yonhap:

The value of production made at an inter-Korean industrial park rose 26 percent in the January-April period from a year earlier despite a drawn-out row sparked by North Korea’s unilateral wage hike, government data showed Thursday.

The value of production at Kaesong Industrial Complex in the North reached a combined US$186 million in the first four months of the year, compared with $148 million a year earlier, according to the Unification Ministry.

In particular, the production at the park rose 21.8 percent on-year to $51.1 million in March and gained 19.7 percent to $50 million in April, when a wage dispute between the two Koreas heightened.

In a separate report unveiled in April, the ministry said that the volume of inter-Korean trade hit a record high in 2014 on growth in exchanges at the industrial park despite Seoul’s punitive sanctions on Pyongyang.

The value of inter-Korean trade reached $2.34 billion last year, up 106.2 percent from a year earlier, it said.

Here is coverage in Arirang News.

Read the full story here:
Production at joint industrial park rises 26 pct in Jan.-April


UK publishes an updated list of sanctioned DPRK individuals/entities

Saturday, July 4th, 2015

You can see the list here (PDF). I have added this to my DPRK economic statistics page.

There is no similar list (as best I can tell) published by the US government (Please correct me if I am wrong). But links to tools created by the different offices in the US government can be found on my DPRK economic statistics page. I suspect a little research on with tools could be used to produce such a list. The closest I have seen to a complete list is here (PDF).

UPDATE: Josh Stanton offers this link.

NK News reports that the European Commission also tightened sanctions on the DPRK.

See Josh Stanton’s summary here.


Mongolian mining firm to export coal from Rason

Friday, June 19th, 2015

According to the Reuters:

A Mongolian coal miner has signed a deal with a shipping company to deliver its coal via Russia to North Korea’s Rason port, part of the landlocked north Asian nation’s efforts to find new ways to reach overseas markets such as Japan and South Korea.

Miner Sharyn Gol signed a binding agreement on Friday with Mongol Sammok Logistics to ship its coal to Rason, where Mongolia already has an agreement with North Korea that gives its exporters preferential treatment at the port.

Mongolia currently ships the bulk of its mostly resource-based exports to China, leaving its economy dependent on its powerful southern neighbour and putting it at a disadvantage when it comes to negotiating prices.

“This is a pretty historic deal,” said James Passin, who controls Mongolian Stock Exchange-listed Sharyn Gol through the New York-based Firebird Mongolia Fund.

“This deal has to be viewed in the context of international relations and diplomacy,” he told Reuters on the sidelines of a signing ceremony.

Sharyn Gol currently has no sales agreements in place with any potential overseas buyers, Mr. Passin said, adding that he could not disclose any further details.

Mr. Passin declined to reveal any estimated delivery cost for shipments from the Sharyn Gol mine to Rason, but pointed to the preferential treatment at the port and the Russia exports that already go through there to South Korea.

South Korea has at least twice in the past year taken deliveries of Russian coal from Rason, with steelmaker POSCO one of the regular buyers, according to a company spokesman.

Namgar Algaa, executive director of the Mongolian Mining Association, said opening up new markets would allow Mongolian miners to manage the risk of slowing Chinese growth.

China’s weakening growth this year has meant its coal imports from Mongolia fell 6.9 percent across the first four months of the year to 5.2 million tonnes.


Read the full story here:
Mongolian miner signs deal to ship coal to North Korea


Russian Railways transports 420,000 t of cargo to the Port of Rajin in QI 2015

Monday, June 1st, 2015

According to Port News:

In 2014, foreign-trade cargo transportation through the border crossing Khasan (Russian border)–Tumangan (North Korean border) increased 3.2 times over 2013. At the same time, the transportation of coal increased 24 times. In the first quarter of this year, this trend continued. The volume of transported goods increased several times—up to 432 000 t.

Such data were presented by President of Russian Railways Vladimir Yakunin at the OSJD Railway Summit in Seoul.

In 2014, 280 000 t was transported, of which 238 200 t was coal. In the first quarter of 2015, 408 000 t of coal was sent to the port of Rajin.

In total, according to Mr. Yakunin, it is planned to transport 1.5 million t of coal to the port of Rajin in 2015.

Recall that Russian Railways has implemented the reconstruction of the Khasan (Russia)–Rajin (North Korea) railway section and the construction of a cargo terminal in the port of Rajin. The cost of the project amounts to 10.6 billion rubles.

“In fact, the restoration of the site is a pilot project in the reconstruction of the Trans-Korean Railway, which in the future will provide communication between North and South Korea,” said Mr. Yakunin.

Since November 2014, four experimental coal transportation runs have been carried out through the port of Rajin to South Korea.

“The main task today is to ensure the involvement of enough traffic to complete the work of the railway and the terminal and provide a return on investments,” emphasized the head of Russian Railways.

The capacity of the Khassan–Rajin site and the terminal is 5 million t of cargo a year. In the future, when a favorable situation is created, the terminal may be employed for the transport of containers.

“In cooperation with South Korean companies POSCO, Korail, and Hyundai Merchant Marine, a due diligence investigation was conducted and we are discussing the possibility of creating a joint venture for the operation and development of infrastructure. This project is the first practical step in the development of trilateral cooperation on the development of Trans-Korean Railway. In this venture, we count on the support of South Korean businesses, the government, and the President of the Republic of Korea,” said Vladimir Yakunin.

Read the full story here:
Russian Railways transports 420,000 t of cargo to the Port of Rajin in QI’15
Port News


North Koreans arrested for trade in rhino horn

Thursday, May 28th, 2015

According to the Daily NK:

One of the two North Koreans arrested on site for engaging in illegal trade of rhinoceros horns in Mozambique has been confirmed a Pyongyang diplomat, according to the Voice of America.

“Of the two arrested North Koreans, one was confirmed to be Park Chol Jun, a diplomat working at Pyongyang’s embassy in South Africa,” VOA reported, citing an official working at Seoul’s mission in the same country.

The two perpetrators, arrested on the 3rd this month, posted bail the following day and left the country for South Africa, the official said.

The North Korean mission there paid roughly 30,000 USD for their bail, the South Korean official said.

North Korean diplomats are said to often engage in illegal activities in other countries.

In March, a Pyongyang diplomat was deported from Bangladesh after attempting to smuggle in 27kg of gold, while in April, a couple from the North’s mission in Pakistan was caught selling alcohol on the streets of Karachi without a license.

“These kind of illegal activities have been around for a long time, because they stem from structural problems in operation,” Hong Sun Kyeong from the Committee for the Democratization of North Korea, who was also a former Pyongyang diplomat in Thailand, said. “Since the late 1970s, the North has not been giving its overseas missions money to operate. So not only do they have to make their own money, the state also makes it a rule that they have to wire back ‘loyalty foreign currency.’”

He added, “Back in the North, they do not recognize such illicit activities as being illegal, so even if officials are deported, they can just as easily be sent to missions in other countries.”

Here is coverage in the Joong Ang Ilbo.

Read the full story here:
Pyongyang diplomat caught in illegal trading of rhino horns
Daily NK
Kim Seong Hwan


DPRK selling Viagra in Bangladesh

Friday, May 15th, 2015

According to UPI:

A North Korean restaurant manager in Bangladesh was arrested in connection with illegal sales of Viagra and alcohol on Friday.

The supervisor of Pyongyang Restaurant in Dhaka, identified as a North Korean woman, had been secretly selling the impotence drug alongside other pharmaceuticals, reported South Korean news agency Yonhap.

Bangladesh’s Customs Intelligence Investigation Department was tipped off about the illegal sale of alcohol – and a raid on Friday uncovered 210 pills of Viagra, other medications, 94 cans of Foster’s beer and ten bottles of whisky, according to Bangladesh news site Prothom-Alo.

Pyongyang Restaurant in Dhaka is presided over by North Korea embassy staff, and an embassy employee reportedly tried to block the investigators.

Moinul Khan, head of the Customs Intelligence Investigation Department, said legal steps would be taken against the one North Korean national who was arrested.

Yonhap reported Bangladesh news network Jamuna TV was first to report the arrest, and said the North Korea-operated restaurant was raising funds through illegal operations.

Bangladesh’s population is mostly Muslim, with 83 percent of the country adhering to the Islamic faith. Alcohol cannot be sold without government permission.

This is not the first time North Korean envoys have been connected to illegal activity in Bangladesh.

In March North Korean diplomat Son Yung Nam tried to transport $1.4 million worth of gold bars, 170 in total.

Bangladeshi customs officials said the gold was most likely headed for a “local criminal racket” in order to raise cash for North Korea.

Read the full story here:
North Korean arrested in Bangladesh for sales of Viagra, alcohol
Elizabeth Shim


Chinese firms urged to remain confident in DPRK

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

According to Yonhap:

China has encouraged its companies doing business in North Korea to remain confident, despite strained political ties between the two neighbors.

The Chinese ambassador to North Korea, Li Jinjun, made the remarks at a meeting on Wednesday with a group of Chinese businessmen in North Korea, the Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang said in a statement.

Li told the Chinese businessmen that he has briefed North Korean officials on China’s ambitious Silk Road project aimed at reviving the ancient trade route between Asia and Europe.

Taking advantage of the Chinese Silk Road project, Li “encouraged Chinese companies to seize the opportunity to remain confident in their businesses in North Korea,” according to the statement.

Since taking up office in March, the Chinese ambassador has held a series of meetings with North Korean officials, including North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Ri Gil-song and Minister of Foreign Trade Ri Ryong-nam.

With a US$40 billion fund, the Silk Road project, known as “One Belt, One Road” in China, is designed to build ports, expressways, railways and other infrastructure with its neighboring countries.

China is North Korea’s economic lifeline and diplomatic backer, but political ties have strained in recent years, particularly after the North’s third nuclear test in early 2013.

Read the full story here:
Chinese firms urged to remain confident in N. Korea


Chongryon chief’s son arrested over suspected DPRK mushroom imports

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

UPDATE 1 (2015-7-17): Chongryon chief’s son pleads not guilty. According to Kyodo:

One of two men linked to the pro-Pyongyang group Chongryon have pleaded not guilty to illegally importing mushrooms from North Korea.

Ho Jong Do, a son of Ho Jong Man, who heads the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon), said the charges were totally wrong as their trial opened Thursday in the Kyoto District Court.

The other defendant, Kim Yong Jok, president of a Tokyo-based company affiliated with Chongryon, pleaded guilty.

The men imported about 3,000 kg of matsutake mushrooms produced in North Korea, worth around ¥7.6 million, via China in September 2010, prosecutors said.

Japan has banned imports from North Korea as part of sanctions against the country over its nuclear arms and missile development programs.

Japanese investigators have alleged North Korea aimed to obtain foreign currency by exporting the highly sought-after mushrooms.

ORIGINAL POST (2015-5-12): According to the Kyodo:

Police on Tuesday arrested three men, including the son of the head of the pro-Pyongyang group Chongryon, on suspicion of illegally importing a shipment of matsutake mushrooms from North Korea.

Masamichi Kyo, 50, whose father is Chongryon chief Ho Jong Man, runs a Tokyo-based company affiliated with the organization.

The investigation — carried out by Kyoto police and three other prefectural police forces — involved raids in March on sites related to Chongryon, also known as the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan.

The group has functioned for decades as North Korea’s de facto embassy in Japan in the absence of diplomatic ties between Tokyo and Pyongyang.

Kyo’s arrest could further complicate bilateral ties, given that the initial raid prompted North Korea to lash out, with Pyongyang declaring that talks with Japan would now be “difficult” to achieve.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said Tuesday that police are “conducting their investigations based on law and evidence.”

A source close to Chongryon said Kyo is widely regarded as Ho’s bookkeeper, although he kept a low profile at Chongryon and only served in a senior post at one of the group’s local chapters in Tokyo.

The two other individuals arrested were Kim Yong Jak, 70, the president of the company Kyo works for, and Kazuhide Yamanaka, 63, a senior official at a related company.

The three are suspected of conspiring with two other men on Sept. 27, 2010, to import illegally via China some 1,800 kg of matsutake mushrooms from North Korea. The shipment was worth around ¥4.5 million.

“This is a false accusation,” Kyo said as he was escorted by investigators out of his condominium following his arrest Tuesday morning.

Officers quoted him as saying, “I will not cooperate as this is an unjustified arrest.”

The police suspect the mushroom shipment was part of North Korea’s bid to acquire hard currency, as Japan has maintained an embargo on imports from North Korea since October 2006. The measure is part of a package of sanctions by Tokyo on Pyongyang for its missile and nuclear tests.

The focus of the investigation is whether Kyo acted on the orders of the North Korean government.

Chongryon sources say Kyo served as an executive of the association’s Adachi branch, but he has not worked at the headquarters in Chiyoda Ward and was not a high-profile activist for the group.

That is why investigative sources say surveillance was “lax” on him, and Kyo was able to visit North Korea as his father’s proxy. A re-entry ban on Ho meant he stayed in Japan while his son traveled.

When the economic sanctions preventing Ho’s re-entry were partially lifted and Ho was able to visit North Korea last September, his wife and Kyo were already in Pyongyang when he arrived, investigative sources say.

Because investigators believe the mushroom deal was part of North Korea’s measures to secure foreign currency, they are now examining the transfer of funds between Chongryon and Pyongyang.

At around 6:40 a.m. Tuesday, about a dozen investigators carrying cardboard boxes entered Kyo’s condo in Adachi Ward.

About 30 minutes later, Kyo emerged, wearing a mask and a cap, looking down and surrounded by investigators.
Separately, Japan and North Korea are at loggerheads over stalled bilateral talks on Pyongyang’s abductions of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s.

Read the full story here:
Chongryon chief’s son arrested over suspected N. Korea mushroom imports