Archive for the ‘Tobacco’ Category

Smoking in the DPRK

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

According to the Daily NK:

May 31st was also the 26th ‘World No Tobacco day.” According to Rodong Shinmun, North Korea also observed ‘No Tobacco Day’ at an event held at Pyongyang People’s Palace of Culture. It was attended by WHO officials, government agency and affiliated union representatives and ordinary workers.

However, North Korea’s smoking rate is still one of the highest in the world. WHO reports claim that North Korea’s smoking rate among those age 15 years and older is 52.3%, the highest in Asia. This is partly because smoking in the streets and all major public facilities is allowed. Restaurants, parks, offices, theatres and public gathering areas are all places in which people are free to smoke. There are ‘no-smoking’ signs on trains, but many ignore these warnings as well.

Read previous posts on tobacco here.

Read the full story here:
No Smoking Day Lacking NK Traction
Daily NK
Choi Song Min
2012-06-05

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DPRK luxury good import data

Saturday, January 7th, 2012

Picture above via Wall Street Journal.  Click image for larger version.

Quoting from the article:

An examination of U.N. and Chinese trade data reveals that exports to North Korea of products including cars, tobacco, laptops, cellphones and domestic electrical appliances all increased significantly over the past five years. Most items crossed the border from China.

The data reveal glaring loopholes in the sanctions regime, demonstrating how China has stepped in as North Korea’s main supplier of goods considered luxuries as other countries have clamped down on such exports.

But the figures also hint at the emergence of a new entrepreneurial class in North Korea rich enough to buy imported goods. Some analysts say this group could represent the strongest impetus for economic reform, and potentially undermine the totalitarian grip of the Kim family dynasty.

Since 2007, North Korea’s imports of cars, laptops and air conditioners have each more than quadrupled, while imports of cellphones have risen by more than 4,200%, with the vast majority of items coming from China, according to the U.N. data. Chinese customs data show those trends continuing in 2011.

“The sanctions don’t work because as long as China allows the export of luxury goods, the North Korea elite will be paid with them to support the regime,” said Jiyoung Song, an associate fellow at London-based think tank Chatham House, who has studied North Korea since 1999.

At the same time, she added, “Things like DVDs and mobile devices will help to change North Korean society in a gradual manner by teaching them about the outside world, and showing them these things don’t just come through the benevolence of their leaders.” She said last year she interviewed a North Korean defector—the daughter of a trade official—who claimed she had been given an iPad and two laptops by the “Dear Leader,” as Kim Jong Il was known.

The growing demand for Chinese consumer goods is no longer confined to the political elite, according to Andrei Lankov, a leading expert on North Korea at Kookmin University in Seoul.

He estimated that the political elite consists of a few thousand key decision-makers and about a million people with midlevel or senior positions in the bureaucracy. Most of the rest of the population of 24 million receive an official monthly salary of $2 to $3 which they can top up to about $15 by selling things in private markets, he said.

More recently, though, a new entrepreneurial class of up to 1% of the population, or about 240,000 people, has emerged that is earning at least a few hundred dollars a month, said Prof. Lankov.

“This growing demand for luxury goods is being driven by the new bourgeoisie,” he said. He said he had met a defector who as early as 2008 claimed to have been earning $1,000 a month by importing tobacco from China and selling it in North Korea in fake packaging.

It is impossible to verify who precisely is driving the demand for Chinese consumer goods. North Korea does not publicize any kind of trade data, let alone allow independent market research. But other countries do report their exports to North Korea, and figures through the end of 2010 are compiled in the United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database, or UN Comtrade. China’s customs authorities provide data for its exports to North Korea through last November.

Among the exports of liquor to North Korea from Hong Kong in 2010 were 839 bottles of unidentified spirits, worth an average of $159 each, and 17 bottles of “spirits obtained by distilling grape wine or grape marc” worth $145 each, according to the U.N. figures.

In 2010, North Korea also imported 14 color video screens from the Netherlands—worth an average $8,147 each—and about 50,000 bottles of wine from Chile, France, South Africa and other countries, as well as 3,559 sets of videogames from China, the U.N. data show.

Some of this might have been to cater to the small number of tourists, diplomats and foreign businesspeople in the country. Many items, however, were clearly destined for North Koreans. Cars, for example, are one of the highest status symbols, and are often given as gifts by the state to loyal senior officials.

In 2010 alone, North Korea imported 3,191 cars, the vast majority from China—although one, valued at $59,976, placing it in the luxury category. came from Germany.

One of the most striking figures is a dramatic increase in imports of mobile telephones—ownership of which was once considered a crime. In 2010 alone, the country imported 433,183 mobile phones, almost all from China, and with an average value of $81 each. Egyptian telecoms company Orascom, which launched North Korea’s first and only mobile network in 2008, said that its North Korean network had 809,000 subscribers at the end of the third quarter of 2011.

Read the full story here:
Luxuries Flow Into North Korea
Wall Street Journal
Jeremy Page
2012-1-7

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DPRK struggling with smoking

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

According to Yonhap:

At least a decade has passed since North Korea’s official media began urging its people to quit smoking ahead of 2012, the year it aims to become a “great, prosperous and powerful nation,” but recent reports suggest the smoking rate among North Koreans remains high.

In a report marking World No Tobacco Day, which falls on May 31, Pyongyang’s official Korean Central Television reported Tuesday on the government’s anti-smoking campaign without mentioning its stated aim of lowering the smoking rate to 30 percent by 2010.

According to earlier North Korean media reports, 54.7 percent of the population smoked in 2008.

The North Korean regime, however, has been persistent in its efforts to reach its goal, enacting a law in 2005 to restrict smoking and banning advertisements in public places that relate to smoking.

These actions came after Korean Central Television made a broadcast in June 2000 that called on the North Korean people to give up smoking and contribute with their healthy bodies to building a “great, prosperous and powerful nation.” The year 2012 marks the centenary of the birth of North Korea’s late founder, Kim Il-sung.

Here is the previous KCNA coverage of “World No Tobacco Day”: 20032004, 20052006-A, 2006-B, 20072008, 2009-A, 2009-B,  2010, 2011-A, 2011-B.

The DPRK has a tobacco factory in Pyongyang, Hoeryong and commissioned a tobacco JV company in 2008.

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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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DPRK hosts “no tobacco day”

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

(H/T to the Marmot)  According to the AFP:

Speakers at a Pyongyang event marking World No-Tobacco Day stressed the increasing social concern over the practice, the official news agency reported.

The agency, in a separate report, noted that a non-smoking campaign has intensified, with smoking banned in theatres, cinemas, schools, hospitals, sidewalks and other public places.

Violators in the hardline state “are exposed to legal sanctions,” it said without elaborating.

The country’s best-known convert is leader Kim Jong-Il, a former heavy smoker who was reportedly advised by his doctors in 2007 to quit because of heart problems. A smoking ban was imposed at all the venues he visits.

An official photo taken in 2009 during a visit to a cigarette factory showed the leader with a cigarette in his mouth, but it was unclear whether he had lapsed or was posing for the camera.

South Korea and other states accuse the North of killing 46 young sailors with a torpedo attack on a South Korean warship in March. It denies responsibility.

See the photo of Kim Jong-il smoking at the  Marmot.

Read the full story here:
N.Korea hails no-tobacco day amid military tensions
AFP
5/31/2010

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On tobacco and hard currency

Monday, March 8th, 2010

The Financial Times published a thorough article on the DPRKs eforts to raise hard currency through tobacco re-exports:

North Korean and other Asian trading entities started re-exporting State Express 555 cigarettes, manufactured by British American Tobacco, in February last year, just months before North Korea’s second nuclear test in four years prompted the United Nations to impose tougher sanctions on Pyongyang.

BAT sold the so-called “NK 555s”, made and packaged in Singapore for the North Korean market, to a Singaporean distributor for shipment to Nampo, a port near Pyongyang.

However, at least 15,000 cases worth $6.3m (€4.6m, £4.2m) rebounded out of Nampo to ports in Vietnam and the Philippines, according to documents seen by the Financial Times, to go to other markets where they commanded a higher price.

While the UN banned luxury goods exports to North Korea, member nations have been allowed to compile their own sanctions lists, which critics say created loopholes.

The US, Japan, Australia and Canada banned a broad range of tobacco products. Meanwhile, the European Union and Singapore sanctioned only cigars, which allowed BAT to continue exporting NK 555 cigarettes to North Korea. BAT said it halted exports of the cigarettes from Singapore to North Korea after discovering a diverted cargo of NK 555s in August.

International tobacco companies frown on “grey market” or “parallel” exports of their products to markets for which they were not intended. But national customs authorities target counterfeits rather than so-called “diverted real product”.

BAT has maintained some business ties to the country. It still supplies its former Pyongyang joint venture, from which it divested in 2007, with materials to make and sell cheaper Craven A cigarettes on the domestic market.

BAT says 175m NK 555s were exported to North Korea in 2008. They were made and packaged in Singapore which, like the EU, banned exports of cigars but not cigarettes.

The London-based company sold the NK 555s to SUTL Group, a family-controlled distributor in Singapore, for onward shipment to the North Korean port of Nampo.

“When we became aware of the diversion, we immediately launched an investigation,” Pat Heneghan, global head of BAT’s anti-illicit trade division, told the FT. “We certainly didn’t like what we found.”

While there was no evidence of any involvement by SUTL in the diversion, Mr Heneghan said BAT still had “a very hard discussion with the distributor”. SUTL declined to comment.

There is no evidence that the re-export of NK 555s by a number of unidentifiable North Korean entities and other small trading companies across Asia was illegal.

While tobacco companies consider the re-routing of legitimate cigarettes from their intended market as “illicit”, they are not necessarily “illegal” in the eyes of customs authorities focused on counterfeits and smuggling.

“In August last year, BAT discovered a diverted NK 555 shipment in Singapore, which we assumed could be for transhipment to other markets in Asia,” said a BAT spokeswoman. “But we were unable to inspect the shipment as we could not demonstrate any breach of Singapore law to the authorities.”

On April 10 2009, the NK 555 re-exports were discussed in an e-mail sent by a Singapore-based cigarette trader to a potential buyer in Manila.

“We have to confirm by next week,” wrote Bert Lee of Compass Inc. “Empty containers will have to start moving into Nampo . . . So kindly speak and plan with your buyer and let me know if you want to take up this new NK 555 Blue.”

Compass began to sell cases of NK 555 to a Hong Kong-based trading company in early 2009. E-mails and shipping documents show the cigarettes were first diverted to Dalian, a Chinese port, and then shipped on to Singapore before finally landing in Haiphong in Vietnam.

While the trail ran cold in Haiphong, people tracking the shipment suspected its ultimate destination was China.

“They sell it to someone who can handle it for the China market,” said one person involved in the trade, who asked not to be identified.

Invoices sent from Compass to its Hong Kong buyer in February 2009 do not reveal the North Korean source of the NK 555s. But Mr Lee left no doubt about the cigarettes’ provenance.

“Stocks are now in NK and sample already send [sic] out to us,” he wrote to his potential buyer in Manila. “I hope we can work on this New Blue [555] and controlling the market and stocks as soon as possible.” Mr Lee did not reply to phone calls, e-mails and faxes from the FT.

“As a trader, we just get the product and buy and sell,” said one Compass executive who declined to identify himself or comment on the NK 555 shipments when contacted by telephone. “Where it goes, who knows?”

Read previous tobacco posts here. Read previous BAT posts here.

To date I have been unsuccessful in locating the BAT factory in the DPRK.  If any readers have knowledge of its whereabouts, I would appreciate it. 

Read the full article here:
N Korea draws on tobacco for cash
Financial Times
Tom Mitchell, Pan Kwan Yuk
3/8/2010

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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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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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Economic rationality in the DPRK

Saturday, January 24th, 2009

Writing in the Daily NK, guest author “Benji” and an astute reader offer us this little glimpse of economic rationality in North Korean culture.

benji-pektu.jpg

Commenting on the photo above, “Benji” notes:

“A North Korean soldier in front of an amazing view from [Mt. Pektu].  Minutes later, he was to offer me one of his cigarettes.”  

An astute reader made the following comment:

“The cigarette from the Soldier probably wasn’t the kind offer it seemed to be. North Koreans use cigarettes as currency. When they see a western tourist they offer their substandard north korean cigarettes in the hope of receiving western thus more valuable ones in exchange, or if they are especially lucky chinese Double Hapiness

The pictures and story are worth reading here:
Sacred and Stunning Mountain, Baekdu
Daily NK
“Benji”
1/22/2009

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Evolution of the DPRK’s cigarette market

Tuesday, August 12th, 2008

North Korean Cigarette Production: Chinese Cigarettes Disappear
Daily NK
Moon Sung Hwee
8/12/2008

The market share of North Korean cigarette manufacturers has been increasing because North Korean cigarette factories have turned their gaze on domestic low-priced brands instead of counterfeit products.

A source from North Korea explained on the 8th that “There are lately dozens of cigarette brands which are being produced in North Korea, from low-priced ones to expensive ones made for high officials. Now, we rarely see people looking for foreign-made cigarettes in the markets.”

He added that “We can see 500 won per pack cigarettes and also cheap brands, like 300 won cigarettes which are made by individuals. When compared to rice prices, cigarette prices have sharply declined, as well as their quality having advanced when compared to the pack price.”

According to the statistics of the Korean International Trade Association, since 2000 imports of Chinese cigarettes have increased every year and in 2003, reached a maximum of 9.4 million dollars.

The source continued, “Competition to obtain Chinese cigarettes among Cigarette smugglers was keen, but now, consumers of North Korean cigarettes are increasing in number and the productivity of manufacturers is increasing as well. Therefore, individuals who produced cigarettes at home took a heavy blow to their business.”

North Korean cigarette makers converted from counterfeit to private development

Since the early 1990s, North Korea has felt keenly the necessity of earning foreign currency after suffering the aftereffects of the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe. Accordingly, North Korean authorities have had an interest in producing and trading drugs and counterfeit cigarettes that need a low initial investment and quickly convert into money. Since 1992, North Korea has mass produced imitations of Mild Seven, Crown, 555, Dunhill and other international brands.

When suffering the “March of Tribulation” in the late 1990s, middle managers started taking an interest in counterfeit cigarette markets, which had been occupied by the authorities. In Nampo, Pyongsung, Pyongyang and other big cities, with the appearance of counterfeit cigarettes made by individuals, competition between the national cigarette traders and private manufacturers in the jangmadang started. Workers of cigarette factories kept secretly packing papers of the counterfeit cigarettes and sold them to the private manufacturers.

The North Korean authorities eventually took measures to punish the private manufacturers, to confiscate their products and search the workers’ bodies one by one.

However, after printers were allowed to be used in some factories related to IT departments of universities in 2002, managers of printers being in collusion with private manufacturers started printing the packing papers of cigarettes.

Production of tobacco leaves privately, manufacturing of cigarettes by the factory

After the start of the 2000s, North Korean authorities turned their gaze on domestic demand for cigarettes. The biggest North Korean cigarette factory is Ryongsung Cigarette Factory, where most counterfeit cigarettes made by North Korea were produced. As sales increased since 1997, the No. 39 Department of the Workers’ Party, which operates, accumulates and manages Kim Jong Il’s slush funds, has been directly operating the factory. The top quality counterfeit cigarette in North Korea, CRAVEN “A,” so called “Cat cigarette” by North Koreans, are produced in the factory.

The past price of CRAVEN “A” was much more expensive than Chinese cigarettes, such as Hongmei, BAT, Zhangbaishan and Tianping, being equivalent to two kilograms of rice. However, among cadres and the wealthy they were excessively popular. At the time, Chinese brands of cigarette in North Korea were generally valued at around the price of one kilogram of rice.

With profits increasing since 2003, North Korean authorities have tried to increase production by re-opening ruined factories that had closed their doors for lack of resources during the March of Tribulation.

In 2002, “Rasun” and “Sunbong,” which were produced in cooperation with Chinese entrepreneurs, came out in the Rajin-Sunbong area at a lower price than Chinese cigarettes.

Competition between factories to produce high quality and tasty cigarette toughens

Meanwhile, some of private manufacturers who went under in the competition have disappeared from the cigarette market or been merged with big factories.

There is no reason for being poor if North Korea works like it produces cigarettes

The source said that “These days, affiliates with cigarette factories buy dried tobacco leaves from individuals.”

According to the source, on seeing the high quality of cigarettes, people currently say, “That’s the reason why we should open and reform our market and system. If we produce other goods like we produce cigarettes, we won’t have any reason for being poor anymore.”

The Ryongsung Cigarette Factory in Pyongyang produces “Pyongyang,” “Geunseol (construction),” “Hyunmoo (a kind of mythological animal),” “GGoolbeul (Honey Bee),” “MT. Daesung,” “Dongyang (the Orient),” “Saseum (Deer),” and “Galmaegi (Sea Gull)” and the Sungcheon Cigarette Factory produces “Haedangwha (Sweetbrier),” “Yonggwangro (Furnace),” “Deungdae (Lighthouse),” and “Manbyungcho (a name of a herb).”

Koksan Factory in Hoiryeong produces cigarettes for soldiers; “Baeseung (ever-victorious),” “Ildangbaek (a match for a hundred),” “Chobyung (Sentry),” and “Poongnyon (a fruitful year).”

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