KoryoLink drops subscription fees

July 1st, 2015

According to Radio Free Asia:

A dramatic decrease in the monthly rate for cellphone services in impoverished North Korea has seen the number of subscribers skyrocket, but sources inside the reclusive nation say the data may be misleading, as people sign up for two mobile phones at once in order to avoid massive overage fees.

The cost of using a cellphone on Koryolink’s 3G network dropped from 25 yuan (U.S. $4) per month at the end of 2013 to a maximum of 1,000 won, or 1 yuan (U.S. $0.16), in 2014, prompting North Koreans to sign up in droves, according to an official with the Wireless Service Department in Yanggang province.

The surge in subscriptions has prompted the government to open a number of storefronts staffed with agents to deal with the demand and sell cellphones associated with the services, the source said, speaking to RFA’s Korean Service on condition of anonymity.

“Since last year, cellphone agencies have been established in each city and province,” he said.

“In Hyesan (the administrative center of Yanggang province), a cellphone agency was set up next to the Kim Jong Suk Art Theater (named after the grandmother of current regime leader Kim Jong Un), where many people often gather.”

According to the source, the base rate of 1 yuan per month provides subscribers with up to four hours of free calls and 20 text messages. Calls and other services in North Korea are limited to usage within the country only, except for resident foreigners, tourists and selected elite members of society.

The Wireless Service Department official did not provide statistics for the increase in subscribers.

Orascom, an Egyptian telecom company that jointly operates Koryolink with the state-owned Korea Post and Telecommunications Corporation, has said around 2.4 million, or 10 percent, of the country’s estimated 24 million people were signed up with the carrier by the end of June 2014.

In comparison, Orascom said Koryolink had hit 2 million users in May 2013, adding a million subscribers in the 15 months prior.

Inflated numbers

A second source from North Hamgyong province told RFA that the recent increase in subscriptions, linked to the purchase of new phones, had earned praise from central authorities.

“Last year, North Hamgyong province took first place in national sales of cellular phones and the head of its Wireless Service Department received a commendation,” the source said, adding that the capital Pyongyang came in second place, followed by North Pyongan province.

But while the base rates for cellphone services are cheap, subscribers are charged exorbitant fees totaling as much as 100 times the cost of monthly services if usage limits are exceeded, he said.

Because four hours of free talk time and 20 text messages are insufficient, the source said most merchants and officials choose to purchase two cellphones and subscribe to plans for both, allowing them to double usage each month and avoid the high overage fees.

The double purchasing of phones and monthly services had artificially inflated the number of subscribers, he said.

Skeptics have questioned the accuracy of Orascom’s claim of 2.4 million subscribers, saying that—after subtracting a standing army of 1 million soldiers who cannot own cellphones due to security reasons and at least 3 million children aged 10 years or younger—it would suggest more than one in 10 of North Korea’s mostly poverty-stricken citizens use mobile services.

Reports also say that handsets which operate on Chinese networks across the border are regularly smuggled into the country, further complicating estimates of how many cellphone users there are in the North.

North Koreans are reportedly allowed to access only certain 3G services with their cellphones, including SMS and MMS messaging and video calls, but not the Internet.

Read the full story here:
Dramatic Decrease in Mobile Rates Draws Subscribers in North Korea
Radio Free Asia
2015-07-01

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Wonsan City seeing new construction area

June 30th, 2015

Kalma-street-construction

Pictured above (Google Earth): Site of the new Kalma Street construction site in Wonsan

According to KCNA (2015-5-20):

Ground-breaking Ceremony of Construction in Wonsan Area Held

Wonsan, May 20 (KCNA) — The Wonsan area will turn into a world-famous tourist city under the plan of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK).

A ground-breaking ceremony took place in Kalma Street on Wednesday.

Present there were Vice-Premier Kim Yong Jin, officials concerned, builders and citizens of Wonsan.

A reporter and speakers said it was the lifetime wishes and behests of President Kim Il Sung and leader Kim Jong Il to spruce up Wonsan area.

Marshal Kim Jong Un launched a big operation for building Wonsan area into a world famous tourist city, model of city formation, with noble intention to bring about a fresh turn in building a highly civilized socialist nation and dynamically aroused the whole party and country to the drive for doing so, they said.

They called for launching vigorous campaigns to carry out the behests of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il and defending the party’s policies to powerfully demonstrate the might of Songun Korea in construction once again.

At the end of the ceremony they started projects including dwelling houses at the entrance of Kalma Street in Wonsan City.

Here is coverage by the Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES):

Wonsan: Start of Construction as ‘Global Tourist City’

The state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) has reported that the groundbreaking ceremony for the Wonsan region took place on May 20, 2015 on Wonsan city’s Kalma Street.

The KCNA explained that “in accordance with the plans of the Korean Workers’ Party, the Wonsan region will be vigorously transformed into a global tourist city.” It also reported that Vice Premier of the Cabinet Kim Yong Jin was in attendance at the groundbreaking ceremony.

According to attendees at the ceremony, “The proper management of the Wonsan region is the will of Comrade Kim Il Sung and Comrade Kim Jong Il as well as their earnest dying injunction.” They also stressed that “Comrade Kim Jong Un is committed to bringing about a new change in the construction of a civilized socialist state and has unfolded a magnanimous strategy for managing the Wonsan region as a model of city development and global tourist cities.”

The KCNA reported that after the ceremony ended construction was started on private homes near the entrance to Kalma Street.

The ‘Wonsan-Kumgangsan Tourist Region’ was announced as a central-level Special Economic Zone (SEZ) on June 11, 2014 by way of an ordinance by the Standing Committee of the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA). It is part of the large-scale tourism belt that includes Wonsan district, the Masikryong Ski Resort, Ullim Falls, and the Sogwansa, Tongchon, and Kumgangsan districts.

The KCNA confirmed that the Wonsan development was the “will” and “dying injunction” of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, offering as evidence the fact that Kim Jong Il made the development of the Wonsan-Kumgangsan Tourist Region a recent priority of North Korea’s foreign economic sector.

In his 2015 New Year’s address, Kim Jong Un proclaimed to the people, “We need to multilaterally develop foreign economic relations and actively push forward the development of economic development zones like the Wonsan-Kumgangsan Tourist Region.” Also, in February 2015, the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) Central Committee and Central Military Commission presented ‘joint slogans’ for the 70th year anniversary of the country’s liberation and the Party’s founding. Among those presented was the slogan, “Let’s actively push forward the economic development of the Wonsan-Kumgangsan Tourist Region!”

In May 2015, North Korea took the ‘18th Pyongyang Spring International Product Exhibition’ as an opportunity to hold an investment briefing session regarding the development of the Wonsan-Kumgangsan Tourist Region. Another on-site investment briefing at Kumgangsan is slated for six days beginning May 25, 2015.

Regarding the upcoming briefing, O Ung Gil, general manager of the Wonsan Area Development Corporation, said, “At the investment briefing, topics such as the favorability of the development zone (which has abundant tourist attractions), the legal environment, its current state, and the overall development plan will be revealed. […] All entrepreneurs and businessmen who have an interest in development in the region are welcome to attend.”

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US group seeks to seize Mudu-bong

June 30th, 2015

According to the Jerusalem Post:

Shurat Hadin – Israel Law Center on Tuesday requested that Mexico permit it to seize an impounded North Korean ship to satisfy a $330 million it won against Pyongyang in April in a US civil damages trial for wrongful killing of a Christian priest.

Mexico impounded the 6,700-ton Mu Du Bong for illegal weapons smuggling on its way from Cuba to North Korea following notification by UN sanctions monitors that the ship belonged to a blacklisted firm. The ship ended up accidentally landing on the Mexican coast and North Korea has protested Mexico’s continuing to hold on to the ship.

The Tel Aviv-based NGO hired Mexican lawyer Alberto Mansur to request that Mexico honor and enforce the US court ruling as part of its obligations to honor foreign judgments under the Hague Convention.The April judgment, which also included findings by a US federal court in Washington that North Korea had kidnapped, tortured and killed South Korean-American Rev. Kim Dong Shik, included $15m. each to Shik’s son and brother as well as $300m. in punitive damages.

Dong Shik, a South Korean who was a permanent resident of the US and had spent seven years providing aid and proselytizing to North Korean defectors who tried to escape via China, was abducted in China in 2000. In 2005, a South Korean court convicted an ethnic Korean of his abduction in concert with North Korean intelligence.

Shurat Hadin said that it hoped that the context of the requested seizure, the North Korean outlaw regime ignoring weapons smuggling laws and flouting UN resolutions, would help its case since it tied into Pyongyang’s massive human rights violations in abducting and murdering innocent persons, which was at the heart of the Dong Shik judgment.

The judgment was a default judgment in which the defendant, North Korea, did not even appear at trial, leading most to predict that it would go unenforced since default judgments are notoriously hard to collect on, especially with a regime such as North Korea, which has few connections to the West.

After the April judgment, Shurat Hadin said the family was investigating all the possible avenues to collect the judgment against North Korean assets including seizing bank accounts, property and shares in foreign companies in the United States and abroad.

But even Shurat Hadin admitted that Mexico’s seizure of the ship was a shocking gift and unexpected opportunity to collect on the judgment. The NGO’s President Nitsana Darshan- Leitner said that “North Korea should know that we are actively tracking its assets and looking to seize them everywhere in the world. This outlaw regime must be taught that it cannot abduct and murder foreign citizens and that eventually there will be a price to pay.”

“There is no reason why this boat which clearly belongs to North Korea cannot be used to satisfy our judgment,” she said.

In the April judgment against North Korea, the court said that the two $15m.

and the $300m. damages awards were consistent with comparable cases against North Korea and Iran for other similar wrongful actions and recognized the tremendous suffering by Dong Shik’s family members.

In December 2014, Shurat Hadin convinced a US federal appeals court to grant default judgment against North Korea on liability, paving the way for April’s massive damages award by the lower district court.

The ruling by the US Appeals Court for the District of Columbia, written by Judge David S. Tatel, reversed an earlier district court ruling that had dismissed the case, despite North Korea failing to defend itself, on the grounds that the plaintiffs had failed to present any direct evidence of what happened to Dong Shik.

The appeals court based its ruling on proof that Pyongyang kidnapped Dong Shik, a wealth of information about it torturing and killing prisoners, its systematic attempts to block direct evidence from emerging and its failure to counter the plaintiffs’ claims.

The ruling was also significant because it allowed a case to go forward based on the “terrorism exception” to the US Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which somewhat broadens the paths and precedents open to suing foreign nations for terrorist acts.

Read the full story here:
NGO seeks to seize N. Korean ship to pay off $330 m. US judgment for killing of priest
Jerusalem Post
Yonah Jeremy Bob
2015-6-30

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DPRK’s mixed signals on market labor regulations under Kim Jong-un

June 29th, 2015

UPDATE 1 (2015-6-29): Men under 60 banned from market activities. According to the Daily NK:

With Kim Jong Un at the helm of North Korea, the age limit for commercial activities has been removed for women; for men, however, this limit has recently been raised, allowing only those in their 60s or over to enter market life.

This runs contrary to not long ago, when one could easily spot men in their 40s inhabiting stalls in the marketplace, often selling shoes or offering bike repair services– a common occurrence since residents took to market activities to cope with the widespread famine ravaging in the mid-1990s.

This has changed in almost an instant under the new mandate. “Actions have been taken so that men under 60 cannot run businesses in the jangmadang (market), as the Central Party demands that men should remain loyal to their workplaces,” a source from Yangkang Province informed Daily NK through a telephone conversation on June 26th.

Daily NK’s sources in two other provinces confirmed the news of this directive but for their safety their locations remain confidential.

“At markets in Hyesan there used to be men in their 40s running shoe repair business, cigarette stands or barbershops. But they’re all gone now, and even the stores such as bike shop or key repair shop are being run by men in their 60s,” the source added.

Men’s role in the marketplace has been rigidly controlled since the Kim Jong Un came to power, aimed at preventing workers from doing business rather than fulfilling their roles at state-run factories and enterprises. Women, however, have enjoyed relative freedom in their commercial activities.

Some men have long turned to offering up ‘8.3 money’ to escape the workplace and go out to try their hand at doing business.

The term ‘8.3 Money’ is related to a program of limited enterprise autonomy put in place by Kim Jong Il in 1984. As part of the plan, workers are encouraged to earn money outside their state-mandated workplaces and present de facto tax payments back to their employers. Such contributions are not necessarily defined in monetary terms: wild edible greens and valuable medical herbs (some of which fetch a high price in China) can also be contributions, for instance.

“Most of these men run wholesale or transportation of goods, carrying goods for retail dealers using ‘servi-cha.’ Some men under 60, who once sold goods in the jangmadang, have now turned to the transportation business,” he explained.

In the past, trains were almost the only viable means of long-distance transportation in North Korea. Then, as private business began to grow and the railways further deteriorated, vehicles such as trucks and cars belonging to military bases, state security and state enterprises were pushed into service to earn money for moving people, known as the ‘servi-cha’ industry.

“Even at the beginning of the last year there were many young men selling coal briquettes, salt and other food products [at markets in Pyongsong] but now they’re nowhere to be found,” the source said, citing a merchant from Pyongsong, South Pyongan Province.

Women’s relative freedom in doing business has created avenues for men despite to stay in the game, allowing them to team up with a female counterpart in order to evade the new directive, he said, explaining that in these cases, “men take care of transportation and wholesale of goods, while women take care of actual selling of goods. In this way, they can avoid the regulations.”

According to the source, the Kim Jong Un era has seen little control over people’s market activities. As a result, the number of stores has increased in most of the marketplaces in the whole country, vitalizing residents’ commercial activities.

The logic behind the freshest regulation is that to the extent that the regime has allowed commercial activities–an autonomous means of living for the people who have been suffering chronic shortages of food–men should devote themselves to their state-ordered workplace.

ORIGINAL POST (2015-3-23):  It appears there is an informal easing up on unauthorized street vendors near marketplaces. According to the Daily NK:

Alley merchants [also known as grasshopper merchants]– those who sell goods in alleyways to avoid crackdowns by Ministry of People’s Safety [MPS] officials–are now referred to as “tick merchants,” a term coined after their rapid proliferation, according to sources within North Korea.

Affiliated with city and county People’s Committees throughout North Korea, official marketplaces are run by a management center, charged with collecting and handling fees for vendors renting stalls from which to sell their sundry goods.

However, securing a location for their operations is not feasible for a multitude of residents. “Many don’t have enough money to afford to pay for a stall in the marketplace, so they either sell goods in the alleys of villages or by crossroads in close proximity to the jangmadang [North Korea’s system of markets],” a source in North Pyongan Province told Daily NK on February 9th.

Regulation of these “alley merchants,” of whom there are countless numbers, is carried out by the Ministry of People’s Safety and patrol units falling under its umbrella. Frequently, these officials are know to extort merchants under the pretense of regulating illegal market activity, confiscating their goods, only to turn around and return the merchandise as soon as their bribe demands have been met.

Despite the incessant threat of crackdowns and extortion by these officials, “grasshopper vendors” are determined to continue selling their items, desperate to hold onto their “lifelines,” according to the source, who noted a marked difference in this particular sector of the market economy since just last year.

Of this situation, she said, “With February 16th [Kim Jong Il’s birthday] fast approaching, the number of alley merchants has surged [to sell goods for residents preparing for the holiday], as has the number of MPS officials.” She went on to explain that last year, however, these “grasshopper merchants” largely abided orders, fleeing the premises after the MPS units arrived for fear of the repercussions. But this year most are staying put in these makeshift alleyway market areas, even saying things to the officials like, ‘If we got our rations, do you think we would be putting ourselves through this?’

This is how the newly coined term, ‘tick merchant’, came into existence: derived from a common expression in North Korea–regarding how impossible ticks are to remove and keep away before another comes along–these merchants are much the same–refusing to budge despite the consequences, determined to claim their spot in the market system.

Recently, investigations launched by the Central Party, aimed at rooting out reckless misconduct of MPS officials toward residents, are also thought to be contributing to the ease on regulation of these alley merchants. This, coupled with the bribe culture continually infiltrating the “tick merchant” realm–just as in the rest of North Korea–has seen the number of those engaged in these operations spike; nominal bribes of cash or goods ensure, at least for the time being, that they can do business in relative peace. Not unlike those with official stalls inside the market, some even reportedly pay periodic fees directly to the market management, all but guaranteeing their exemption from regulation.

The residents, and even the MPS officials themselves, are not overly preoccupied with regulations and clampdowns, because, as the source put it, “it becomes increasingly difficult for officials to crackdown on merchants selling in the surrounding areas of the markets, entirely reliant on selling goods to survive.”

Many are concerned that the leniency pervading these alley way operations may be fleeting, but the source asserted things will never return to the past. “When the investigations on the Ministry of People’s Safety officials are over, regulation of the alley markets is expected to become stringent again. Still, at this point, it’s next to impossible for these officials to make residents, largely dependent on business to maintain their livelihoods, obey them, meaning eradicating these ‘tick merchants’ is just as improbable,” she concluded.

And the DPRK has begun lifting age restrictions on market vendors. According to the Daily NK:

Amid relaxation of restrictions on market activities, the North Korean authorities began lifting age restrictions for vendors at the end of last year in some regions and, more recently, scrapping the ban nationwide.

“The authorities have been quite lax with clampdowns and regulations of official markets as of late,” a source in Yangkang Province reported to Daily NK on March 20th. “Those previously not permitted stall rights to sell their products are now being granted these privileges, greatly increasing the number of stalls. Also, women below the age of 50 are no longer prohibited from selling at the markets.”

In the absence of age restrictions, markets have seen a marked increase of women selling goods there. According to the source, the North Korean authorities previously regulated trade activities by women under 50 to deter shirking of ideological study sessions or–even more importantly– nationwide mobilization directives for agricultural or construction efforts, The authorities compromised by granting these women permission to participate in these compulsory organization activities only in the morning, freeing up the afternoon for market activities.

“Since last year, the authorities didn’t really implement clampdowns and have even showed a great deal of leniency to those selling in the alleys. As a result, women who previously idled away at home have been propelled into market life, selling everywhere they can,” she explained.

Unsurprisingly, most women are perplexed, if cautiously elated, by the leniency shown by a system that has wielded such stringent power and regulation over them for so long. “The shift in sanctions feels like hell has frozen over,” many have remarked, adding that they “finally have the opportunity to make ends meet.” Still, many are wary, noting that “you never know when the authorities will abruptly declare a new policy or revert to stringent clampdowns.”

She added that while the state did not lift the restriction to “improve people’s lives” as it claims, it has had a positive impact nevertheless. According to the source, North Korea’s motives for the lift begin and end with procuring funds. “There are thousands of stalls in Hyesan Market; this yields huge profits for the state who collect the fees vendors pay to use the space,” she pointed out.

That said, she maintained a sanguine outlook, remarking how empowering it is to see women effecting change in the markets by expanding their inroads into this sector, while making significant, if not dominant, fiscal contributions within their individual households. “Whereas there were only older women in the markets in the past, you can now easily spot women in their 20s and 30s in the industry,” she explained.

Surprisingly, the reduced regulations have increased rather than diminished participation in state mobilization efforts– such as compost collection or “loyalty singing sessions”– because women are afforded a bit more breathing room from unceasing concerns about how to secure their next meal. The positive results are already palpable, according to the source, who said that “most families are better off now due to women’s increased forays into the market domain.”

Read the full story here:
Crackdowns Ease Up on Alley Merchants
Daily NK
Seol Song Ah
2015-02-11

NK Lifts Market Age Restrictions
Daily NK
Kang Mi Jin
2015-03-23

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DPRK and FATF (UPDATED)

June 29th, 2015

UPDATE 8 (2015-6-29):  FATF says member states should pay “special attention” to financial transactions with North Korea. According to VOA:

The Paris-based Financial Action Task Force last week reaffirmed its earlier decision to put the community country on its watch list because of North Korea’s “failure to address the significant deficiencies in its anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism,” the task force said in a public statement released on its website. It said that failure poses “serious threat … to the integrity of the international financial system.”

The task force had a plenary meeting last week in Brisbane, Australia.

“The FATF reaffirms its 25 February 2011 call on its members and urges all jurisdictions to advise their financial institutions to give special attention to business relationships and transactions with the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], including DPRK companies and financial institutions,” it said.

The group also expressed concern about the North’s noncompliance with its recommendations to fight money laundering.

In an apparent attempt to ease financial sanctions by the United States and the United Nations, the North promised steps to address money laundering concerns. In July 2014, Pyongyang announced it had joined the Asian affiliate of the anti-money laundering body as an observer. Later, the North sent a letter to the FATF indicating its commitment to implementing actions recommended by the group.

The FATF, created in 1989, has 36 members, comprising 34 member countries and territories and two regional organizations.

UPDATE 7 (2015-3-16): Following the FATFs statement regarding the DPRK on February 27, the US Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued a new advisory.

Read the full advisory here (PDF)

Here is coverage in Yonhap.

UPDATE 6 (2015-2-17): The FATF has issued another statement on North Korea:

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is the global standard setting body for anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT). In order to protect the international financial system from money laundering and financing of terrorism (ML/FT) risks and to encourage greater compliance with the AML/CFT standards, the FATF identified jurisdictions that have strategic deficiencies and works with them to address those deficiencies that pose a risk to the international financial system.

Jurisdictions subject to a FATF call on its members and other jurisdictions to apply counter-measures to protect the international financial system from the on-going and substantial money laundering and terrorist financing (ML/FT) risks emanating from the jurisdictions.

Iran
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)

Jurisdictions with strategic AML/CFT deficiencies that have not made sufficient progress in addressing the deficiencies or have not committed to an action plan developed with the FATF to address the deficiencies. The FATF calls on its members to consider the risks arising from the deficiencies associated with each jurisdiction, as described below.

Algeria
Ecuador
Myanmar

———–
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)

Since October 2014, the DPRK sent a letter to the FATF indicating its commitment to implementing the action plan developed with the FATF.

However, the FATF remains concerned by the DPRK’s failure to address the significant deficiencies in its anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regime and the serious threat this poses to the integrity of the international financial system. The FATF urges the DPRK to immediately and meaningfully address its AML/CFT deficiencies.

The FATF reaffirms its 25 February 2011 call on its members, and urges all jurisdictions, to advise their financial institutions to give special attention to business relationships and transactions with the DPRK, including DPRK companies and financial institutions. In addition to enhanced scrutiny, the FATF further calls on its members, and urges all jurisdictions, to apply effective counter-measures to protect their financial sectors from ML/FT risks emanating from the DPRK. Jurisdictions should also protect against correspondent relationships being used to bypass or evade counter-measures and risk mitigation practices, and take into account ML/FT risks when considering requests by DPRK financial institutions to open branches and subsidiaries in their jurisdiction.

UPDATE 5 (2015-2-4): NK News picked up the Choson Sinbo piece and offered these comments:

But other regime watchers suggested that there are at least certain segments of the North Korean elite who do indeed want money laundering combated.

“There’s a cohort of DPRK businessmen who want the country to take more active steps in dealing with financial improprieties because they are losing money or opportunities,” said Michael Madden of North Korea Leadership Watch. “The DPRK leadership, particularly Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong, is thinking more long-term on this.”

And Christopher Green of the Daily NK suggested that this was an effort by the North Korean government to not only avoid sanctions, but assert its control over the domestic financial industry by cracking down on money launderers.

“The state wants to bring into its remit all those rogue financial elements that occasionally tend to fall outside the remit of the ruling coalition,” he said. “The state is in a constant battle to stay as top dog in the financial sector in a country where so much is illegal for historical and political reasons – and illegality is always exploited eventually.”

And Daniel Pinkston of the International Crisis Group suggested that the North may have its eye on its northern neighbor with this move.

“I think it will be helpful – from the DPRK perspective – if Pyongyang ever needs to plead their case with Beijing to avoid financial sanctions that include Chinese banks since they are critical for the DPRK’s international financial linkages,” Pinkston said.

Kim Chon Gyun told the Choson Sinbo that the nation’s penal code has already been revised to reflect international standards when punishing money laundering.

UPDATE 4 (2015-2-3): Yonhap reports on the recent Chosun Sinbo article:

North Korea has created a national committee on efforts to fight money laundering and terrorist financing, a senior Pyongyang official confirmed Tuesday.

The communist nation’s move came after it joined the Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APG), the Asia-Pacific arm of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) under the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), last year.

“The National Coordinating Committee is an organ to guide projects to prevent money laundering and financing of terrorism,” Kim Chon-gyun, head of North Korea’s central bank said in an interview with the Chosun Sinbo. The newspaper is published by the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, or Chongryon.

The panel, chaired by a deputy premier of the Cabinet, involves officials from the central bank, the foreign ministry, the finance ministry, and law-enforcement authorities, he added.

The North has already revised its penal code to take punitive measures against related violations in accordance with international norms, said Kim.

In January, Pyongyang said that it sent a letter to the FATF, based in Paris, pledging the sincere implementation of an action plan to meet global anti-money laundering standards.

UPDATE 3 (2015-2-3): The Chosun Sinbo has posted an article on anti-money laundering measures in the DPRK. Here is a rough translation:

[Interview] Kim Chon-kyun, the President of the Central Bank of the DPRK, Cooperation with International Organizations for Prevention from Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing.

“Establishment of the National System for Preventing from Illegal Acts”

By Kim Ji-young, reporter from Pyongyang

Kim Chon-kyun, the President of the Central Bank of the DPRK presented, at the interview with the Choson Sinbo, the opposite stance of North Korean government against money laundering and terrorist financing as follows.

“What cannot be allowed according to institutional characteristics”

– A letter from the president of the Central Bank of the DPRK that pledged to implement plans for action for prevention from money laundering and terrorist financing was submitted to Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on Jan 1st. How has the negotiation between North Korea and FATF proceeded?

The implementing recommendations of the plans for action we pledged this time were consented at the negotiation between North Korea and Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering in Cambodia on September 2014.

When looking into the recommendations, it included maintaining cooperative relations such as sharing data and proceeding cooperation with organizations, joining as a member state, devising a means to sanction and to punish on money laundering and terrorist financing, reinforcing the confirmation procedure of traders, establishing financing watching and information business system including reporting surreptitious trade, joining in international agreement, assessing loca, etc. These measurements are, in a word, that we should establish national system to punish severely illegal acts like internal/external money laundering and terrorist financing.

North Korea institutionally does not allow those illegal acts.

Long before such “international standard” appeared, North Korea already set legal, organizational measurement adequate for our society to prevent from money laundering –like acts. This is specifically described on our laws and those regulations have renewed according to the need for development in reality.

It is interesting that the head of the central bank is the point man for this operation because the DPRK’s central bank does not have the authority to hold foreign currency accounts–only accounts denominated in DPRK won. It seems to me that international money laundering should also be of concert to the Foreign Trade Bank, a sanctioned entity that is responsible for managing hard currency deposits in the DPRK.

UPDATE 2 (2015-1-24): According to the Pyongyang Times:

DPRK commits itself to anti-money laundering action plan

The Governor of the DPRK Central Bank on January 15 sent a letter to the Financial Action Task Force on Anti-Money Laundering, assuring it that the country would implement the Action Plan of International Standard for Anti-Money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terrorism, a spokesman for the DPRK National Coordinating Committee on Anti-Money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terrorism told KCNA on January 16.

He described this as a manifestation of the DPRK government’s political will based on its consistent stand to step up international cooperation in this field.

Recommendations of the action plan are legislative and organizational measures to criminalize and punish money laundering and financing of terrorism, and almost all of them have long been implemented in the DPRK to suit its actual conditions, according to the spokesman.

The DPRK will sincerely implement the action plan as it has pledged itself for the promotion of mutual understanding with member nations in the face of the obstructive moves of the US and some other countries that are reluctant to cooperate with the international organization, he stated.

He requested the organization to positively respond to the DPRK’s cooperative efforts as it assured in negotiations with the country.

UPDATE 1 (2014-10-24): FATF issues a public statement from Paris that includes the following:

Jurisdictions subject to a FATF call on its members and other jurisdictions to apply counter-measures to protect the international financial system from the on-going and substantial money laundering and terrorist financing (ML/FT) risks emanating from the jurisdictions.

Iran
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)

Since June 2014, the DPRK has further engaged directly with the FATF and APG to discuss its AML/CFT deficiencies. The FATF urges the DPRK to continue its cooperation with the FATF and to provide a high-level political commitment to the action plan developed with the FATF.

The FATF remains concerned by the DPRK’s failure to address the significant deficiencies in its anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regime and the serious threat this poses to the integrity of the international financial system. The FATF urges the DPRK to immediately and meaningfully address its AML/CFT deficiencies.

The FATF reaffirms its 25 February 2011 call on its members and urges all jurisdictions to advise their financial institutions to give special attention to business relationships and transactions with the DPRK, including DPRK companies and financial institutions. In addition to enhanced scrutiny, the FATF further calls on its members and urges all jurisdictions to apply effective counter-measures to protect their financial sectors from money laundering and financing of terrorism (ML/FT) risks emanating from the DPRK. Jurisdictions should also protect against correspondent relationships being used to bypass or evade counter-measures and risk mitigation practices, and take into account ML/FT risks when considering requests by DPRK financial institutions to open branches and subsidiaries in their jurisdiction.

Here is the web page for FATF. You can learn more about FATF here.

ORIGINAL POST (2014-7-19): North Korea joins OECD anti-money laundering group. According to the JoongAng Daily:

North Korea has joined the Asia Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APG), whose purpose is to prevent funding of terrorism and development of nuclear weapons.

Members of the APG unanimously decided to accept North Korea and Tuvalu as observers during its general meeting held in Macau yesterday.

APG is the Asia Pacific unit of the Financial Action Task Force under the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has 41 member countries including the U.S., South Korea, China and Japan and observers include countries such as Germany, France and the U.K., as well as 27 international organizations such as the Asia Development Bank and World Bank.

Since North Korea has been accepted as an observer, it has to follow several rules including the prevention of money laundering, funding of terrorist organizations or actions, sharing its knowledge and experience and following global regulations and laws.

The APG will decide later whether to elevate North Korea from observer status to a member country once it evaluates Pyongyang based on its annual reports to the organization and visits by the representatives of the group over the next three years.

South Korea and many other members are trying to figure out the motive behind the unexpected move by Pyongyang, because North Korea was previously opposed to joining the APG.

“[North Korea’s motive] is a mystery to us,” said a high ranking government official, who requested anonymity. “We suspect that North Korea, while looking for ways to ease the international financial restrictions imposed on them, decided to show their efforts in improving their global image [by joining the APG].

“But since the lists that they need to follow are long, we will probably have wait and see how sincere and determined they are with their decision.”

In other words, it could be a facade as a way for North Korea to ease the sanctions imposed on it, since the possibility that Pyongyang will give up its nuclear ambitions is low.

The action is particularly suspicious because up until last year’s APG meeting held in Shanghai, North Korea refused to join the organization because of the rule requiring members and observers to follow global standards. North Korea at the time argued that it would join the APG only after the agreement to follow UN resolutions was taken out.

The resolutions include prevention of money laundering, nuclear terrorism and development of nuclear weapons, which is the opposite of the North Korean government’s goal of securing both economic growth and nuclear weapons.

But now, North Korea has agreed to follow all regulations presented by APG.

The tide seemed to have turned as financial sanctions imposed by the international community and led by the U.S. have intensified.

Pyongyang suffered heavily last year after the U.S. and China closed the accounts of the Foreign Trade Bank of North Korea, which was known as the money laundering window for Pyongyang. The money laundered through the trade bank is suspected of being used in funding the regime’s control over the country.

In May, the state-run Bank of China said it had notified the Foreign Trade Bank of North Korea that it was closing all of its accounts and suspending all financial transactions. It did not specify the number of accounts in the bank.

The move came as a shock considering China and North Korea’s strong ties. China was previously the lifeline of North Korea, whose economy has been heavily dependent on its close ally.

Last year wasn’t the first time that North Korea’s accounts have been shut down. In 2005, the U.S. froze North Korea’s accounts at Macau’s Banco Delta Asia, which was a heavy blow to Pyongyang’s ability to secure foreign capital.

The recent change of heart seems to have been triggered by a report by the U.S. State Department in May designating North Korea as a country that is non-cooperative against terror, citing its decision not to join either the FATF or APG.

Although suspicious, the South Korean government isn’t disapproving of the move by the North, as there are positive aspects such as better transparency of Pyongyang’s finances if it conforms to the APG’s regulations.

And if Pyongyang doesn’t follow the rules and loses its license as an observer, the sanctions against North Korea will further tighten.

“North Korean representatives, after their acceptance was approved [in Macau], stressed that they will work on following the APG’s international standards and our [South Korean] government has emphasized the importance of following the resolutions set by the United Nations Security Council,” said a government official.

Read the full story here:
North Korea joins OECD anti-money laundering group
JoongAng Daily
Jung Won-yeop and Park Jin-seok
2014-7-19

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North Korean-style venture company develops and sells PCs

June 24th, 2015

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2015-6-24

A North Korean electronics company, where engineers in their 20s play a pivotal role, is mass-producing and selling locally made computers that are enjoying popularity due to their high quality and low price.

A correspondent in Pyongyang for the Choson Sinbo reported on June 16, 2015 that North Korea’s ‘Blue Sky Electronics’ is developing, mass-producing and selling various electronic products, including domestically produced computers under the ‘Blue Sky’ brand.

According to the Choson Sinbo, Blue Sky Electronics, which was established in October 2014, is locally developing, producing and selling these computers, which are manufactured at a factory on Tongil St. in Pyongyang.

It is reported that the researchers behind the computers are mostly in their 20s and graduates of Kim Il Sung University, Kim Chaek University of Technology, and the College of Natural Sciences. They are producing products such as ‘all-in-one’ computers, ‘portable’ computers, ‘desktop-type’ computers and ‘portable computers with detachable keyboards.’

The ‘all-in-one’ computers refer to computers that incorporate the desktop and monitor into one body, while ‘portable’ computers and ‘desktop-type’ computers refer to notebook computers and desktops, respectively. ‘Portable computers with detachable keyboards’ seem to refer to computers that double as both tablet computers and desktops.

The newspaper reported that among these, the ‘all-in-one’ computer and the portable computer with a detachable keyboard are especially popular, and orders for these computers are steadily coming in from a number of agencies and companies throughout the country.

The ‘all-in-one’ computer, which has a unique exterior, is said to consume little energy and can be charged using a household battery. Meanwhile, the portable computer with detachable keyboard, which can also be charged using a household battery, has reportedly enjoyed much popularity since it went on the market.

CEO Choi Jin Hyok (29 years old) explained succinctly the company’s business strategy: “Highest quality, lowest price, and product diversification.”

The newspaper added that the company is “developing products that are competitive internationally.” In addition, it was said that “[Blue Sky Electronics] guarantees the highest quality so that buyers can have confidence regarding its domestically made products, and everything in the company’s management is aimed at prioritizing the needs of the people in all aspects of purchasing and service.”

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Samgak Beer

June 24th, 2015

Choson Exchange has let the world know about a new North Korean beer: 삼각맥주

samgak-beer

The name means “triangle” beer, or more accurately “river delta” beer.

It is manufactured at the Rajin Drink Factory (라진음료공장). I do not know where this factory is located, so please let me know if you happen to learn.

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KKG in Pyongyang

June 24th, 2015

UPDATE 4 (2015-7-6): Stephan Haggard provides some additional information on Queensway Group/KKG.

UPDATE 3 (2015-6-24): Writing in the Financial Times, Tom Burgis links Queensway Group/KKG with Office 39.

UPDATE 2 (2015-5-1): J.R. Mailey has much more information on the Queensway Group/KKG.

UPDATE 1 (2014-7-17): Over at 38 North, J.R. Mailey has uncovered much more information on KKG (Queensway Group) and linked it with the Kaesong High Tech Industrial Park.

ORIGINAL POST (2012-9-11): “Kumgang Street/KKG Avenue Project in Pyongyang”: Aggressive construction and re-development projects have taken place on Pyongyang’s Mansudae Street over the last few years as part of the DPRK’s “Strong and Prosperous Nation (강성대국)” policies. See Mansudae renovation no. 1 here and Mansudae renovation no. 2 here.

Residential construction projects, however, have been limited neither to Mansudae Street (See here, here, here, here, hereherehere, here) nor to Pyongyang. In the interest of [my] time, I will offer only the most recent example: There are reports of an ambitions real-estate project in Chongjin, though satellite imagery in the area is too old to confirm the project or evaluate its size/scope.

However, a recent tourist photo taken in Pyongyang near the Tongil Market reveals yet another ambitious plan for residential development in Rakrang-guyok (락랑구역). It is unclear how long this project has been planned or if/why it appears to be on hold. Here is the photo of the billboard:

Click here to see a larger version of this photo on flickr.

According to the billboard, this project bears the name “Kumgang Street” in Korean (금강거리) and “KKG Avenue” in English. The operation appears to be run by 금강경제개발총회사 (The Kumgang Economic Development Corporation). A quick Google search for “금강경제개발총회사” yields pleanty of results, but all of them are in Korean–meaning it will be excruciatingly painful for me to do any research on this organization. If you can determine anything else about this project, please let me know.

From what I can tell, this effort is set to take place just north of the Tongil Market (conspicuously absent from the billboard, though enhanced with a wide avenue and bridge to Yanggak Island). Here is the approximate location as seen on Google Earth (I have added the position of the proposed Yanggak Bridge to make the comparison easier):

According to the billboard, the Mullet Soup Restaurant on the bank of the Taedong River will be part of the finished project.  The remainder of the land looks like it has been cleared and prepared for the development project, although historical imagery on Google Earth indicates that this land has been largely unused for decades. The image below dates from 2000-6-12:

 According to “The Skyscraper Center” the tallest building(s) in the new development will be 274m/899 feet.

I have been able to find out little more about this project. Again, if you can find additional information, please let me know.

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Yanji – DPRK charter flight resumes

June 21st, 2015

According to Xinhua:

An oft-suspended tourist route between China and North Korea has been reopened after its latest closure.

A charter flight carrying 73 tourists left from Yanji, in the Korean autonomous prefecture of Yanbian in northeast China’s Jilin province, for Pyongyang in North Korea on Thursday.

The route will be open until early October, with a planned 32 charter flights on Thursdays and Sundays. All seats on the flights in June have been booked, according to Yanbian Tianyu Travel Agency, which runs the route with North Korea’s Air Koryo.

A four-day trip costs 3,980 yuan (US$650) per person while a five-day trip costs 4,480 yuan (US$720) per person, according to the agency.

The route between Yanji and Pyongyang was first opened in July 2012, but it was closed for the whole of 2013 due to tensions in North Korea. It resumed on June 29 last year and was suspended again in October. A total of 90 flights had been completed on the route by October.

Read the full story here:
Yanbian-Pyongyang tourist route reopens
Xinhua
2015-6-21

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Mongolian mining firm to export coal from Rason

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
Reuters
2015-6-19

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