Archive for the ‘Drug smuggling’ Category

China cracking down on DPRK-made methamphetamine

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

Picture above from the Daily NK.

According to the Donga Ilbo:

China has begun cracking down on North Korea`s narcotics trade in China along with South Korean intelligence, having seized 60 million U.S. dollars worth of drugs from the North last year, according to a South Korean government source Monday.

“It’s only a fraction. The volume of drug trafficking in China will be much greater than that,” the source said.

This is the first time for China to unveil the volume of narcotics made in North Korea.

Beijing had been reluctant to raise the matter in public though it found Pyongyang`s increased drug trafficking as a threat. China diplomatically protects the North in nuclear issues but started a crackdown with South Korea apparently because it can no longer tolerate the North`s narcotics, which threatened China`s three northeastern provinces bordering the North.

The drugs seized by Beijing are said to have the best quality, going beyond the level individuals can produce. So Pyongyang is considered to be manufacturing narcotics on the national level at factories.

“China is pretty much pissed off,” a diplomatic source said, adding, “China believes that North Korea’s drug trafficking has grown more serious since last year.”

Though Beijing did not specifically mention the North when it stressed a crackdown on drugs, it implied North Korean-made narcotics.

In a previous post, we linked to a Newsweek story on the Chinese crackdown:

Twenty years ago, Yanji had only 44 registered drug addicts. Last year, the city registered almost 2,100 drug addicts, according to a 2010 Brookings Institution report, with more than 90 percent of them addicted to meth or similar synthetic drugs. Local officials acknowledge that this is very likely a gross undercount and that the actual number may be five or six times higher. “Jilin Province is not only the most important transshipment point for drugs from North Korea into China, but has itself become one of the largest markets in China for amphetamine-type stimulants,” the Brookings report said.

Chinese authorities recently conducted a provincewide crackdown, code-named Strong Wind. But for law enforcement, the drug presents a particular problem. Unlike other drugs, it’s nearly impossible to trace the origin of meth. Still, officials, residents, and experts believe that much of the methamphetamine consumed in this Chinese region is manufactured across the border in North Korea, a longtime exporter of drugs. “Clearly,” the Brookings report said, amphetamine-type stimulants “from North Korea have become a threat to China in recent years.”

In an article published last year, Cui Junyong, a professor at Yanbian University’s School of Law, posited that a large amount of the illegal drugs ingested in Yanji came from North Korea. Supporting his point, the border patrol last year arrested six North Koreans in a high-profile bust, including a dealer named “Sister Kim.” Although sources estimate that a gram of meth in North Korea costs roughly 10 times the price of a kilo of rice—about $15—it’s still much cheaper than in China.

“Selling ice is the easiest way to make money,” says Shin Dong Hyuk, who was born in a North Korean concentration camp in 1982 and escaped to South Korea in 2005. Every defector, he added, “knows about ice.”

Perhaps because of its alliance with its benighted neighbor, the Chinese government has been extremely careful about pointing its finger at North Korea; reports on drug busts in Jilin province euphemistically refer to the drugs as coming from a “border country.”

“We don’t publicize” the drugs coming from North Korea because it would touch on “the good relationship between China and North Korea,” an official, requesting anonymity, from Jilin’s anti-drug unit says. But he adds, “Of all the drugs we’ve seized this year, it’s mostly been ice, because that’s our main drug here.”

According to Yun and others, North Korea’s methamphetamine production is centered in Hamheung, the site of a chemical-industrial complex built by the Japanese during World War II, which has a high concentration of chemists and was reportedly one of the worst-hit cities during the famine.

Earlier this year, a US Department of State report to the Congress alleged that the DPRK’s state-sponsored drug production was on the wane–though “private” production and trade along the Chinese border remained a problem.  According to one report:

In an annual report submitted to Congress, the US State Department said “no confirmed instances of large-scale drug trafficking” involving the North Korean state or its nationals were reported in 2010.

It said there was not enough information to confirm that the communist state was no longer involved in drug manufacture and trafficking “but if such activity persists, it is certainly on a smaller scale”.

This is the eighth consecutive year that there were no known instances of large-scale methamphetamine or heroin trafficking to either Japan or Taiwan with direct North Korean state involvement, it said in the 2011 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report.

“The continued lack of public reports of drug trafficking with a direct DPRK (North Korea) connection suggests that such high-profile drug trafficking has either ceased or been sharply reduced,” the report said.

The report said, however, that trafficking of methamphetamines along the North Korea-China border continues and press reports about such activities have increased in comparison to last year.

“These reports… point to transactions between DPRK traffickers and large-scale, organised Chinese criminal groups” in locations along the border.

“Press reports of continuing seizures of methamphetamine trafficked to organised Chinese criminals from DPRK territory suggest continuing manufacture and sale of DPRK methamphetamine,” the report said.

This and continued trafficking in counterfeit cigarettes and currency suggests that “enforcement against organized criminality in the DPRK is lax”, it added.

Additional Information:
1.  Back in March, Andrei Lankov wrote about this situtaion.

2. Earlier this year, the DPRK arrested some Japanese men in Rason for “trafficking and counterfeit”.

3. In June, China intercepted a meth shipment from the DPRK.

4. Marcus Noland also has posted on this topic.


Daily NK on anti-socialist activities

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

Part 1: The Illogicality of Anti-Socialist Policy
Lee Seok Young

In North Korea today, those actions which are subject to the harshest oversight and most excessive punishment are those deemed anti-socialist, an expression of the extent to which such actions are seen as a threat to the regime.

Yet these very actions have already taken deep root in people’s lifestyles, spreading rapidly as a result of chronic economic difficulties, food insecurity, endemic corruption and the inflow of information from abroad.

First of all, every North Korean and defector the Daily NK meets says much the same thing; that if people had not followed an ‘anti-socialist’ path during the mid-90s famine, they could not have survived. The power which maintains North Korean society through the hardest times is that derived from anti-socialist actions, and it is those actions which the authorities would like to put an end to.

The blocking of these so-called ‘anti-socialist trends’ nominally began with Kim Jong Il’s 1992 work, ‘Socialism Is a Science’, issued following the fall of the Eastern Bloc. A time of great fear for the regime, ‘Socialism Is a Science’ expressed a determination to block out anti-socialist phenomena.

However, a famine exploded nationwide shortly after the publication of the thesis, placing these very anti-socialist modes of behavior at the core of the lives of almost everybody in the nation.

Having completely replaced Kim Jong Il and the Chosun Workers’ Party as the alpha provider of sustenance, money is now uppermost in the minds of the people. If they can, they are moving away from the collective farms, factories and enterprises to become more active in the market.

“At a time when the state didn’t provide rations and workers were not even receiving their monthly wages, the ones who started trading early on were all best able to avoid this predicament,” said one defector, “Others followed after their example and, rather than trying to find work, went straight into the market.”

Money, then, is the fundamental toxin that now threatens to shake the very basis of the Kim regime, completely undermining the ‘let’s work the same, have the same and live well’ lifestyle that the regime has long been demanding from the people.The authorities, as part of a losing battle to halt this slide, ‘educates’ the people with the mantra, “Don’t become a slave to money,” but it makes no difference.

People are growing more and more money-oriented. What simply began as a desperate rearguard action to survive extreme poverty has become a preoccupation with accumulating wealth. The many who don’t have the capital to start a business are keen to work with those who do.

One interviewee, a woman hailing from North Hamkyung Province, told The Daily NK, “They have to keep trying, but they can’t eliminate it. How could they, when the state itself is actually encouraging its spread? Everywhere you go, they demand bribes, and people with money never get punished even when clearly guilty, because everyone is desperate to earn money.”

Given that the central authorities demand Party funds from regional bodies, and regional Party and military cadres in turn work with smugglers, and the cadres charged with inspection turn a blind eye to criminal acts in exchange for bribes, the whole system is, as the interviewee said, rotten from the top down.

One defector who left his position as a cadre in a Yangkang Province enterprise agreed, recalling, “The Party periodically collected money from our factory, but since all the machinery had long since stopped running, they made us work in the market and give 30% of the profits to the authorities. It was the state that promoted anti-socialism in consequence.”

Another defector originally from North Hamkyung Province said in a similar vein, “The National Security and People’s Safety agents stationed on provincial borders stop people without the right permit to travel, but let them pass in exchange for a few packs of cigarettes. Some even ask for your wrist watch. It’s not just the people; the whole nation is busy being anti-socialist.”

Increasing exposure to foreign materials is also influencing the situation somewhat. Such things are especially popular with students and women working in the markets, two groups which are more up-to-date than most.

South Korean and Western culture is being transmitted quickly via DVD, and materials that are brought into the state from China by traders and smugglers are also pushing forward new trends such as the ‘Korean Wave.’

To the North Korean people, who once lived in near complete isolation from the rest of the world, the introduction of foreign materials has intensified their yearnings for a new life style. The stricter the regulations become, the thirstier for something else the people become.

Part 2: Crackdowns Enhancing Anti-Socialist Cycle
Mok Yong Jae

‘Anti-socialism’ in North Korea is a destabilizing force disturbing the foundations of the system. For that reason, the authorities place a great emphasis on rooting it out. Inspections are frequent and their targets varied. But the fact is that this has done little to stop the growth of such activities; in fact, quite the opposite; some believe that targeted inspections actually increase instances of smuggling, for example.

These focused inspections are handed down in the name of the ‘Party Center’ in other words Kim Jong Il. The latest inspections over anti-socialist trends in border areas have been being carried out by Kim Jong Eun’s direct instruction. First people are educated about and warned against ‘anti-socialist behavior’, then provincial Party and military cadres launch an inspection.

If a concerted inspection is to be unleashed on a given area, an inspection unit is set up, and it does the work. In the case of recent inspections targeting drugs and defection, the inspection units have even been sent from the Central Committee of the Party. The makeup of the unit can differ slightly depending on the target of the inspection, but usually includes agents from the National Security Agency (NSA), People’s Safety Ministry and Prosecutors Office. Precise search sites are usually selected at random and the searches conducted without warning, while ‘criminals’ are flushed out in part by getting citizens to report on one another.

However, the effectiveness of this system has a limit. This is primarily due to an overwhelming degree of official corruption at nearly all levels.

The Spread of Bureaucracy and the Limits of Inspections

The primary agents conducting the inspections, agents from the NSA and PSM, collude with smugglers for their own benefit. Anti-socialist activities are not a new means of survival, and the more commonplace the inspections become, the more focused the agents doing it become on their own self-interest; i.e. rent seeking rather than uncovering instances of wrongdoing.

For example, agents seek out big smugglers only in order to offer them an opportunity for their actions to be ignored, something they will do for a price. A source from Yangkang Province explained to The Daily NK, “Hoping not to lose their goods, also so as to avoid prison, in many cases smugglers try to win over agents. They talk to the official for a while, and if they think ‘this guy can be won over’ then some even gently encourage them to find a way to forego any punishment.”

Then, when the inspecting agents begin dropping heavy hints about expensive merchandise, electronics or a piano, for example, the smugglers say, “I’d be delighted to buy that for you,” and for that receive their freedom.

Thus, it is rare for money to change hands directly; goods are bought in China and handed over when the inspection period has come to a close. The smuggler also obtains a permit to import a certain amount of other goods without penalty in the future. By winning over agents in this way, assistance in future times of trouble can also be secured.

In addition, as Lee Jae Won, the former chairman of the Korean Bar Association Committee on Human Rights in North Korea and someone who has interviewed a great number of defectors as author of the 2010 White Paper on Human Rights in North Korea, concludes, “Anti-socialist activities are extremely common for North Korean cadres in public positions such as prosecutors and judges.” The bribing of prosecutors and judges in exchange for leniency or to escape conviction is a daily occurrence, as much as bribing the security forces and cadres.

What Anti-socialist Counteroffensive? Officials are the source of Antisocialism

Now much more so than in the past, cadres and agents are directly involved in the antisocialist activities.

A Chinese-Korean trader who often goes between Dandong and Shinuiju told The Daily NK, “There are so many drugs in North Korea that even the officers supposed to be policing it are taking drugs themselves. Some of them even asked me to take opium to China and sell it. I go back to North Korea every year to visit relatives, and I’ve seen officers there doing bingdu (methamphetamines) with my own eyes.

It is also said that the families of cadres are the main source of South Korean movies and dramas on DVD. Party cadres are, in effect, the very source of the Korean Wave that their bosses in Pyongyang ban on the premise of defending the state from the ‘ideological and cultural invasion of the South Chosun reactionaries’.

A source from Pyongan Province confirmed the story, telling The Daily NK, “These DVDs and VCDs come from the houses of cadres who travel overseas a lot. The children of cadres love watching them. The families of traders have a lot of them, too, but it’s the cadres they’re spreading from.”

Thus, while the central Party single-mindedly attacks anti-socialist behaviour, the cadres and agents who are meant to be carrying out the orders are deeply involved in the ‘anti-socialism’ themselves. The more crackdowns that occur, the more contact there is between the elite and security forces on the one hand and smugglers and traders on the other, offering more opportunities for symbiosis. It is for this reason that some claim the inspections are actually catalyzing the anti-socialism.

Meanwhile, An Chan Il of the World North Korea Study Center pointed out to The Daily NK that the whole thing is completely inevitable, saying, “These inspection teams are not receiving proper rations from the state, so of course they take bribes instead when sent out into the field. Administrative irregularities and corruption are at the very heart of these anti-socialist inspections. The only way for the families of inspecting agents to survive is for the father to be a part of this anti-socialist behavior.”

Choi Yong Hwan from the Gyeonggi Research Institute agreed, adding, “These inspections are intensifying social inequality. The fundamental cause of this is the collapse of the state rationing system due to economic difficulties. It’s a situation where even the agents are hungry, so there is a permanent pattern of them attempting to guarantee their own survival via corruption. There is a vicious cycle repeating here, whereby those who are able to ingratiate themselves with the inspecting agents and cadres survive, and those who do not or cannot get punished.”


Meth as medicine

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

From a recent Newsweek article about meth use in the DPRK:

First synthesized in 1893, meth is now one of the world’s most widely abused drugs, imbuing the user with intense feelings of euphoria, concentration, and grandiosity. Smoked, injected or snorted, the drug also suppresses the need for food and sleep for an extended period of time; coming down can bring fatigue, anxiety, and occasionally suicidal ideation.

Inside North Korea, observers say, many use meth in place of expensive and hard-to-obtain medicine. “People with chronic disease take it until they’re addicted,” says one worker for a South Korea-based NGO, who requested anonymity in order to avoid jeopardizing his work with defectors. “They take it for things like cancer. This drug is their sole form of medication,” says the NGO worker, who has interviewed hundreds of defectors in the past three years. A former bicycle smuggler who defected in 2009 told NEWSWEEK of seeing a doctor administering meth to a friend’s sick father. “He took it and could speak well and move his hand again five minutes later. Because of this kind of effect, elderly people really took to this medicine.”

Jiro Ishimaru, founder and editor of Rimjin-gang, a magazine about North Korea and reported by people inside the country but published in Japan, says he has seen several North Koreans take meth to relieve stress and fatigue, including his former North Korean business partner. “He didn’t start taking it as a drug but as a medicine,” Ishimaru says.

The drug also offers an escape that might not otherwise be possible. As Shin puts it: “There’s so little hope in North Korea—that’s why ice is becoming popular. People have given up.”

Read the full story here:
North Korea’s Meth Export
Isaac Stone Fish


PRC intercepts DPRK meth shipment

Saturday, June 4th, 2011

According to Reuters:

Police in northeast China detained 10 people and seized a haul of methamphetamines smuggled in to the country from North Korea, Chinese state media said on Saturday.

South Korea and the United States accuse North Korea of involvement in a wide range of illicit activities, including drug smuggling, to raise funds for a government under wide-ranging sanctions due to its nuclear programme.

The 10 suspects were caught in Dandong, which faces North Korea on the Yalu River, carrying 450 grams (1 lb) of methamphetamine, a stimulant known as “ice”, the official Xinhua news agency said in an English-language report.

The suspects are all Chinese citizens and were also carrying 150,000 yuan ($23,150) with them, Xinhua said.

Police are looking for two other people in connection with the haul.

While Xinhua did not say where the drugs came from, it pointed out that Dandong is on the North Korean border and that this was a “cross-border drug trafficking case”.

It provided no other details.

There is probably some sort of “lips and teeth” / “meth mouth” metaphor in here somewhere, but I am not a professional writer.

Previous posts on drug smuggling in/from the DPRK can be found here.

Read the full story here:
China cracks ring smuggling drugs from N.Korea
Ben Blanchard


Narco-capitalism grips North Korea

Friday, March 18th, 2011

Lankov writes in the Asia Times:

In early March, the United States State Department made a statement that attracted surprisingly little attention worldwide, estimating that government-sponsored narcotic production in North Korea seemed to have decreased considerably. At the same time, the statement made clear that the private production of drugs was on the rise.

This fits with what the present author has heard recently – often from sources inside North Korea; it seems that North Korea’s drug industry is changing, and this change might have important consequences for the outside world.

The story of North Korea’s involvement with the international narcotics trade began 35 years ago. In 1976, Norwegian police intercepted a large shipment of hashish in the luggage of North Korean diplomats. The same year, another group of North Korean officials was found in possession of the same drug by Egyptian customs; they had 400 kilograms of hashish in their luggage.

In both cases, diplomatic passports saved them from any formal investigation. Next year, North Korean diplomats were caught trying to smuggle drugs into Venezuela and India. In India, quite friendly to North Korea in those days, the 15 kgs of hashish was transported by the ambassador’s secretary. After that, such seizures became regular occurrences, usually once every year or two, and usually involving North Korean diplomats.

North Korea’s narcotics program has always appeared strange to outside observers – “strange” even if judged by the standards of Pyongyang, whose leaders do not care much about legal niceties and international reputation, and perceive international politics as a cut-throat, zero-sum game. On balance, state-sponsored drug production has done much more harm than good to Pyongyang.

Available estimates agree that the North Korean government didn’t earn much from pedaling illicit drugs. It is even possible that these risky operations were largely waged to sustain North Korean missions overseas – from the mid-1970s such missions were required to pay for their own expenses.

At the same time, the existence of this program inflicted serious damage on Pyongyang’s international standing, which was at rock-bottom anyway. Despite all denials of official involvement, the program could not really be hidden because seizures of narcotics carried by North Korean diplomats and officials happened far too often and sometimes in countries that were relatively sympathetic to the North.

So, if analysts at the State Department are to be believed, North Korea seems to have come to its senses and stopped or, more likely, significantly reduced its narcotics production. Indeed, this program seems to belong to the strange and slightly bizarre world of the foreign policy of North Korea in the 1970s. After all, those were the times when North Korean agents were busy kidnapping Japanese teenagers to become living tools for the training of agents (and when US$200 million was spent propagating the juche(self-reliance) ideology in the Third World).

However, this doesn’t mean the world should heave a collective sigh of relief and write off North Korea as a potential source of dangerous narcotics. If anything, the situation has become worse over the past five to six years. But this time, the North Korean regime seems to have little or no responsibility for the new boom in drug production.

The change in the North Korean drug industry essentially mirrors the wider changes that in the past two decades have occurred in the North Korean economy and society at large. The state-run Stalinist economy essentially collapsed whilst private business took over – usually unrecognized by the state, technically illegal in most cases, completely absent from official statistics, but powerful nonetheless. This happened in all industries, and drugs production was not an exception.

The author interacts with North Koreans quite frequently and most of my contacts are people from the northernmost part of the country, from areas adjacent to the Chinese border. They are unanimous: around 2005 to 2006, these areas experienced a sudden and dramatic upsurge in drug usage, hitherto almost unknown to the common public.

It’s true that some opium productive capacity existed in the northeastern parts of Korea since the early 1900s. This is also the region where secret state-run plantations were rumored to be located in the 1980s or early 1990s. However, in the North Korea of the Kim Il-sung era, surveillance was tight and exceptionally efficient, so drug problems were for all practical purposes non-existent within the country. The drugs were produced for export and medical purposes only.

Things began to change around 2005; by that time North Korea had undergone what is usually described as “grassroots capitalism” or “marketization from below”. The old state-run economy had come to a complete standstill, so most North Koreans started to make a living through all sorts of private economic activities – from cultivating private fields and working at private workshops to smuggling.

Official corruption became endemic, so officials became more than willing to turn a blind eye to all sorts of illegal activities as long as they received their cut. Arguably, North Korea nowadays might be described as the most corrupt country of East Asia: every interaction with authorities requires payment, and if the payment is sufficient, almost everything is possible.

This social and economic situation has made the large-scale private production of drugs possible. The new North Korean drug scene is dominated by “Ice” (crystal meth), a synthetic substance produced in numerous small workshops. It is frequently mentioned by defectors, while references to other drugs are quite rare.

Most of my North Korean interlocutors, some former Korean People’s Army officers, believe that methamphetamines were initially produced officially, but not so much as a drug in the strict sense, rather as a stimulant for elite military units. This seems to be plausible – after all, it was used as such during World War II by both the Axis and the Allies.

However, after around 2005 private production of Ice began and soon became large-scale. There are rumors about occasional state involvement with illicit production of drugs for export, but even if those rumors are true, the state-sponsored labs clearly produce only a small fraction of the total. Most of the labs are private nowadays.

Raw materials are often imported from China, and China has also become a major market for North Korean drug manufacturers. Since law-enforcement in North Korea is so lax (at least when no political issues are involved), it is easier and safer to run a drug workshop there, on the southern banks of the Tumen River.

The Ice-producing labs are difficult to hide since the production is smelly. Usually, such labs operate at some distance from living quarters, somewhere in the mountains or at a non-operational factory. (Admittedly, such factories are not in short supply in post-crisis North Korea).

In many cases, there are joint operations of Chinese and North Korean criminal groups: the Chinese provide the necessary supplies while the North Koreans use their territory as a safe haven to process drugs that are later shipped to China.

However, some narcotics remain in North Korea, where drug usage has increased dramatically. My interviewees say that at least in the cities of the borderlands a significant proportion of younger people have had some experience with Ice. A schoolteacher from a borderland city of Musan recently told me that in 2008-09 most of the students in their final years of high school tried Ice.

But the problem is not limited to the borderlands. A few months ago, a colleague of mine whilst visiting a prestigious college in Pyongyang spotted a poster that warned Pyongyang students about the dangers of drug use. Merely a few years ago, such a poster would be both unthinkable and unnecessary.

It seems this development has begun to worry the Chinese. In the past few years, Chinese media occasionally write about crackdowns on drug dealers in China’s northeast, often explicitly mentioning their Korean connection. Last summer, Chinese media reported that a fleet of high-speed boats, operated by the Chinese police, had begun to patrol the rivers on the border with North Korea. The task of this squad is specifically to fight drug smuggling.

The “new” North Korean drug problem is relatively local and small in scale, although it might have sufficiently grave consequences for North Korea itself, as well as for some adjacent areas of China and Russia. It also might be seen as an indication of a new type of problem that North Korea might create.

In the past, most troubles related to North Korea were caused by the North Korean government that demonstrated an inclination to flout international laws and conventions (sometimes this inclination was strengthened by remarkable adventurism). Nowadays, problems are increasingly caused by the inability of this government to control what is happening in the country – at least outside of Pyongyang and some major cities. In the long run, the lawlessness of uncontrolled private profiteers might prove more dangerous than the Machiavellian adventurism of dictators.

Read the full story here:
Narco-capitalism grips North Korea
Asia Times
Andrei Lankov


Surveillance bureau 118 Sangmu launched

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

According to the Choson Ilbo:

The North Korean regime in January launched a new surveillance bureau charged with snooping on its people, Radio Free Asia reported Thursday.

Quoting a source in the city of Hyesan, Ryanggang Province RFA said the bureau, named 118 Sangmu, combines forces from the State Security Department, the Ministry of Public Security, prosecutors’ offices and party organs, in accordance with leader Kim Jong-il’s instructions “to eradicate antisocialist elements.” Senior officials involved are baffled because the new bureau’s tasks overlap with those of an already existing bureau, 109 Sangmu, it claimed.

Since its launch in 2005, 109 Sangmu cracked down on drugs and DVDs of South Korean soap operas. Over recent years, surveillance bodies have mushroomed, including Bureau 27, an agency which monitors mobile phone use under the State Security Department; 111 Sangmu, which cracks down on child beggars; patrol units of the Ministry of Public Security; mobile strike forces; border guard posts under the Civil Defense Department; and worker inspectors.

The proliferation is already causing problems. On Feb. 24, a pitched battle broke out near the border in North Hamgyong Province between border guards and a security patrol over how to handle three smugglers, a man and two women, who were arrested by the patrol after border guards pursued them, RFA quoted another source in the province as saying. “It nearly led to a shoot-out between the two groups,” the source added.

Internal Surveillance Agencies Mushroom in N.Korea
Choson Ilbo


DPRK illegal drug production on the wane?

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

According to the AFP:

North Korea seems to have largely ended state-sponsored drug trafficking but private groups are smuggling methamphetamine across the border with China, the United States said Thursday.

In an annual report submitted to Congress, the US State Department said “no confirmed instances of large-scale drug trafficking” involving the North Korean state or its nationals were reported in 2010.

It said there was not enough information to confirm that the communist state was no longer involved in drug manufacture and trafficking “but if such activity persists, it is certainly on a smaller scale”.

This is the eighth consecutive year that there were no known instances of large-scale methamphetamine or heroin trafficking to either Japan or Taiwan with direct North Korean state involvement, it said in the 2011 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report.

“The continued lack of public reports of drug trafficking with a direct DPRK (North Korea) connection suggests that such high-profile drug trafficking has either ceased or been sharply reduced,” the report said.

The report said, however, that trafficking of methamphetamines along the North Korea-China border continues and press reports about such activities have increased in comparison to last year.

“These reports… point to transactions between DPRK traffickers and large-scale, organised Chinese criminal groups” in locations along the border.

“Press reports of continuing seizures of methamphetamine trafficked to organised Chinese criminals from DPRK territory suggest continuing manufacture and sale of DPRK methamphetamine,” the report said.

This and continued trafficking in counterfeit cigarettes and currency suggests that “enforcement against organized criminality in the DPRK is lax”, it added.

The article does not state which State Department report these quotes come from so if any readers are aware, place let me know.

However, coming out the same day, the Phillipines complains they are seeing plenty of North Korean-made drugs.  According to the Choson Ilbo:

Methamphetamines made in North Korea are flooding the Asia-Pacific region including the Philippines, officials say. In an interview with Reuters last Friday, Dionisio Santiago, the director general of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, said an influx of methamphetamines from clandestine North Korean factories cut the street price of the drug by half, the news agency said.

“In the last few months, we’ve noticed methamphetamine prices going down to as much as 3 million pesos (US$68,000) per kilo from a high of 6-8 million pesos,” it quoted Santiago as saying. Santiago added that the country’s drug enforcement agency last Wednesday seized a Vietnam-registered ship that attempted to enter Subic Bay with 700 kg of what is believed to be North Korean methamphetamines worth US$100 million.

“Based on our initial investigation, the Vietnam-registered boat which unloaded the methamphetamines shipment had made port calls in North Korea,” Santiago said. “We’ve been informed by our counterparts abroad that North Korea has become a steady source of methamphetamines in the Asia and Pacific region.”

Previous stories about the DPRK’s production of illegal drugs can be found here.

Read the full story here:
US says N.Korea’s state drug trafficking on wane

N.Korean Meth ‘Flooding Asia-Pacific’
Choson Ilbo


Smugglers held for trading DPRK drugs

Monday, February 7th, 2011

According to the Choson Ilbo:

Police have arrested a Chinese-South Korean gang on charges of trafficking 5.95 kg of North Korean-made methamphetamines into the South. The Seoul District Prosecutor’s Office said Sunday among the 13 people arrested is a 56-year-old man in Busan identified only as Kim who is linked to organized crime in the southern port city, and a 35-year-old Korean Chinese identified as Chung from Shenyang, Liaoning Province, also a suspected mafioso.

Kim allegedly received the drugs from Chung and smuggled them into Busan port on ships disguised as fishing trawlers, prosecutors said. Another member of the gang in Busan, who committed suicide last year, sold the drugs on to about a dozen different gangs throughout South Korea.

The arrested Chinese gangsters said they believed the methamphetamines were made in North Korea, prosecutors said. The 5.95 kg that were seized have a street value of W19.8 billion (US$1=W1,117).

It is widely known in the international community that North Korea is the source of various narcotics that are trafficked around the world.

South Korean police believe North Korean-made drugs are trafficked along two routes. The first is through the three Chinese provinces that border North Korea — Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang — where Chinese triads are involved in trafficking, for sale in China, South Korea and Japan. In August last year, one South Korean and two Japanese were arrested by Chinese police on charges of buying and selling 60 kg of North Korean methamphetamines in their hotel room in Shenyang. In July last year, three South Koreans were caught in Longjing smuggling 4.5 kg of North Korean methamphetamines. In 2009, 35 people were arrested in the three Chinese provinces on charges of drug trafficking, and most of them were apparently North Korean-made.

The other route is by ship directly to Australia, the Philippines or Japan. Some of these shipments involve hundreds of kilograms and lead to sharp decreases in the street price of meth. North Korean methamphetamine is known for its purity and apparently fetches high prices on the streets.

There have not been many DPRK drugs stories in the media for the last couple of years.  I wonder if production is down, arrests are down, demand is down, or the story is just too mundane to report. Anyone have any ideas?

In all fairness, the meth is only suspected of coming from the DPRK due to assumptions made by incarcerated Chinese gangsters. Maybe more helpful information will come out during the court proceedings.

Joshua wrote something about this nearly a year ago.

Read the full story here:
Mobsters Held in Smuggling of N.Korean Drugs
Choson Ilbo


Recent papers on DPRK topics

Friday, December 17th, 2010

Forgotten People:  The Koreans of the Sakhalin Island in 1945-1991
Download here (PDF)
Andrei Lankov
December 2010

North Korea: Migration Patterns and Prospects
Download here (PDF)
Courtland Robinson, Center for Refugee and Disaster Response, Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University
August, 2010

North Korea’s 2009 Nuclear Test: Containment, Monitoring, Implications
Download here (PDF)
Jonathan Medalia, Congressional Research Service
November 24, 2010

North Korea: US Relations, Nuclear Diplomacy, and Internal Situation
Download here (PDF)
Emma Chanlett-Avery, Congressional Research Service
Mi Ae-Taylor, Congressional Research Service
November 10, 2010

‘Mostly Propaganda in Nature:’ Kim Il Sung, the Juche Ideology, and the Second Korean War
Download here (PDF)
Wilson Center NKIDP
Mitchell Lerner

Drug Trafficking from North Korea: Implications for Chinese Policy
Read here at the Brookings Institution web page
Yong-an Zhang, Visiting Fellow, Foreign Policy, Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies
December 3, 2010

Additional DPRK-focused CRS reports can be found here.

The Wilson Center’s previous NKIDP Working Papers found here.

I also have many papers and publications on my DPRK Economic Statistics Page.


US sanctions two more DPRK organizations

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

UPDATE 2: Here is the actual Treasury Department Press Release (11/18/2010):

Treasury Designates Key Nodes of the Illicit Financing Network of North Korea’s Office 39

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of the Treasury today designated Korea Daesong Bank and Korea Daesong General Trading Corporation pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13551 for being owned or controlled by Office 39 of the Korean Workers’ Party.  Office 39 is a secretive branch of the government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) that provides critical support to North Korean leadership in part through engaging in illicit economic activities and managing slush funds and generating revenues for the leadership. Office 39 was named in the Annex to E.O. 13551, issued by President Obama on August 30, 2010, in response to the U.S. government’s longstanding concerns regarding North Korea’s involvement in a range of illicit activities, many of which are conducted through government agencies and associated front companies. Korea Daesong Bank is involved in facilitating North Korea’s illicit financing projects, and Korea Daesong General Trading Corporation is used to facilitate foreign transactions on behalf of Office 39.

“Korea Daesong Bank and Korea Daesong General Trading Corporation are key components of Office 39’s financial network supporting North Korea’s illicit and dangerous activities,” said Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey.  “Treasury will continue to use its authorities to target and disrupt the financial networks of entities involved in North Korean proliferation and other illicit activities.”

E.O. 13551 targets for sanctions individuals and entities facilitating North Korean trafficking in arms and related materiel; procurement of luxury goods; and engagement in certain illicit economic activities, such as money laundering, the counterfeiting of goods and currency, bulk cash smuggling and narcotics trafficking. As a result of today’s action, any assets of the designated entities that are within U.S. jurisdiction are frozen and U.S. persons are prohibited from conducting financial or commercial transactions with these entities.

UPDATE 1: Here is the US Treasury Department’s web page on North Korea.

ORIGINAL POST: According to Reuters:

The United States sanctioned on Thursday two North Korean companies linked to a group it accuses of drug smuggling and other “illicit” activities to support the nation’s secretive leadership.

U.S. sanctions against North Korea aim in part to persuade Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear programs, which the United States views as a threat to its allies South Korea and Japan. The North tested nuclear devices in 2006 and 2009.

The Treasury Department’s moves against Korea Daesong Bank and Korea Daesong General Trading Corporation will freeze any assets belonging to them that fall within U.S. jurisdiction as well as bar U.S. companies from dealing with them.

Their main aim is not to block North Korean assets in U.S. banks — analysts say there are unlikely to be any — but to discourage other banks from dealing with North Korea, thereby cutting off its access to foreign currency and luxury imports.

Perks and luxuries such as jewelry, fancy cars and yachts derived from North Korea’s shadowy network of overseas interests are believed to be one of the main tools Pyongyang uses to ensure loyalty among top military and party leaders to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

The Treasury described the two entities as “key nodes of the illicit financing network” of Office 39 of the Korean Workers’ Party, which it accuses of producing and smuggling narcotics to earn foreign exchange for the government.

“Korea Daesong Bank and Korea Daesong General Trading Corporation are key components of Office 39’s financial network supporting North Korea’s illicit and dangerous activities,” Treasury Under Secretary Stuart Levey said in a statement.

Heroin Production?
The Treasury designated the two under a recent executive order that targets entities that support North Korea’s arms trafficking, facilitate its luxury goods purchases and engage in illicit economic activities such as money laundering, drug and bulk cash smuggling and counterfeiting goods and currency.

President Barack Obama signed the executive order on August 30 allowing the Treasury to block the U.S. assets of North Korean entities that trade in arms or luxury goods, counterfeit currency or engage in money laundering, drug smuggling or other “illicit” activity to support the government or its leaders.

When that executive order was announced, the Treasury accused Office 39 of producing opium and heroin and of smuggling narcotics such as methamphetamine.

U.S.-North Korean relations have deteriorated since Obama took office, with his aides deeply unhappy about Pyongyang’s decision to conduct nuclear and missile tests last year as well as the March 26 sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan.

Forty-six South Korean sailors were killed in the incident, which the United States, South Korea and other nations blame squarely on North Korea. Pyongyang denies responsibility.

In the August 30 executive order, Obama cited the Cheonan’s sinking as well as 2009 nuclear and missile tests by North Korea as evidence it poses “an unusual and extraordinary threat” to U.S. national security, foreign policy and economy.

The Obama administration has been skeptical about returning to so-called six-party negotiations with the two Koreas, China, Japan and Russia under which Pyongyang committed in 2005 to abandon its nuclear programs.

U.S. officials say they do not want to talk for the sake of talking and North Korea must show some commitment to abandoning its nuclear programs.
Read the full story here:
U.S. sanctions two North Korean entities
Arshad Mohammed