Archive for the ‘Gold’ Category

The mining industry of the DPRK

Sunday, August 7th, 2011

Last week the Nautilus Institute posted a paper on the DPRK mining industry written by Choi Kyung-soo.  You can see the full report here.  A couple of the mine locations were incorrectly reported, so I thought I would correct the record (as I understand it), as well as offer coordinates and satellite imagery of all the facilities mentioned in the paper:

Sangnong Mine (상농광산)
40°36’0.38″N, 128°43’35.40″E
Sangnong Worker’s District, Hochon County, South Hamgyong Province. According to the paper, the mine is located in the “Dancheon district of Hamgyeongnam-do”.

Holdong Mine (홀동광산)
38°52’18.15″N, 126°26’21.98″E
Holdong Worker’s District, Yonsan County, North Hwanghae

Hyesan Youth Mine (해산청년광산)
41°21’52.36″N, 128° 9’28.35″E
Hyesan City, Ryanggang Province

Komdok (Geumdeok) Mine (검덕광산)
40°55’9.41″N, 128°49’13.76″E
Kumgol-dong, Tanchon, South Hamgyong Province

Taehung (Daeheung) Mine (대흥청년영웅광산)
41° 4’24.63″N, 128°51’4.68″E
Taehung-dong, Tancheon City, South Hamgyong

Musan Mine Complex (무산광산련합기업소)
42°14’16.22″N, 129°15’59.70″E
Musan, North Hamgyong

Oryong Mine (어룡광산?)
42°18’13.59″N, 129°22’51.70″E (estimated)
According to the paper, the Oryong Mine is near Ryungchon-ri (42°20’18.19″N, 129°24’39.48″E) in Hoeryong and opened in 2007. The satellite imagery of the area is from 2006 and shows an area under construction near the village. Another source claims this mine is located in Obong-dong, closer to the city of Hoeryong and is a uranium mine.

Jongchon Graphite Mine (정촌광산)
37°55’7.23″N, 126° 6’49.34″E
Jongchon-ri, Yonan County, South Hwanghae.  The paper claims the mine is located in “Jeongchon-gun”, which does not exist.

2.8 Jiktong Youth Coal Mine (2.8직동 청년 탄광)
39°29’42.68″N, 126° 2’3.50″E
Jiktong, Sunchon, South Pyongan

Kogonwon (Gogeonwon) Mine (고건원탄광)
42°40’25.03″N, 130°12’47.28″E
Kogonwon Worker’s District, Saepyol County, North Hamgyong Province

Apdong Mine (압동광산)
38°25’6.96″N, 127°21’8.17″E
Apdong-ri, Phyonggang County, Kangwon Province


Recent DPRK publications

Sunday, June 19th, 2011

Imports from North Korea: Existing Rules,Implications of the KORUS FTA, and the Kaesong Industrial Complex
Mark E. Manyin, Coordinator, Jeanne J. Grimmett, Vivian C. Jones, Dick K. Nanto, Michaela D. Platzer, Dianne E. Rennack
Congressional Research Service (CRS)
June 2, 2011

Download the PDF here.  This publication has been added to the list of previous CRS reports on the DPRK here.


Trade with China 1995-2009
Nathaniel Aden
Nautilus Institute
June 7, 2011

View the paper here.  A link to this paper has been added to the DPRK Economic Statistics Page. The Nautilus Insitute has also posted links to some very interesting presentations from the 2010 DPRK Energy and Minerals Working Group.


[Book] The Contemporary North Korean Politics: History, Ideology, and Power System (현대 북한의 정치: 역사, 이념, 권력체계)
Jong Song-Jang (정성장)
More information TBA, but see here and here (Korean).


[Book] Architekturführer Pjöngjang (German: Pyongyang Architecture Guide)
Philipp Meuser
Order here at Amazon. More here and here.


Strange UK-DPRK fraud case

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

I still have not had time to pay much attention to this story, but here is the coverage by the major British media outlets:

The Economist:

SVEN GORAN ERIKSSON, a Swedish football manager of some repute, is a man known as much for his wide travels as he is for his colourful love life. After scoring great success in Italy, he managed the national teams of England, Mexico, and the Côte d’Ivoire. Even seasoned Sven-watchers however were surprised when he rocked up in North Korea in 2009.

This week it was reported that he had been there at the behest of one Russell King, a convicted conman, who had managed to convince a London financial institution, the government of North Korea, and Mr Eriksson himself that he was managing billions of dollars on behalf of the Bahraini royal family.

A report on the BBC’s investigative news programme “Panorama” (or, if you’re outside the viewing area) has it that Mr King, who is now believed to be on the lam in Bahrain, first convinced directors of small investment bank First London Plc to hand over 49% of the company to him, in return for his apparently colossal business. This done, he used First London to finance an investment in Notts County, a Midlands football club with a proud history, now plying its trade in the lower divisions.

Mr Eriksson, drawn in by the promise of shares in Swiss Commodity Holdings (SCH), a vehicle of Mr King’s, was duly installed as football director at County. He was joined there for a time by another fellow dupe, Sol Campbell, an ex-Arsenal and England star. Messrs King and Eriksson ventured to Pyongyang on SCH business, where they are reported to have made a deal with officials in the North Korean government to grant them exclusive rights to the impoverished nation’s gold mines. “I was in the palace and they were handing over to the North Korean government so-called shares”, Mr Eriksson told BBC’s investigative news programme “Panorama”. “They used my name”, he laments; there was even talk of him managing the North Korean football team.

Those who follow developments in North Korea tend to prefer casting Kim Jong Il as an evil genius—crazy like a fox—rather than as merely crazy. While there can be no doubting that he has it in him to run circles around America and China, the Dear Leader appears to be no match for a silver-tongued conman of Russell King’s stature.

The Guardian:

The Serious Fraud Office is looking into an elaborate scam that took in the former England football manager Sven Göran-Eriksson, former spymaster Sir John Walker and the North Korean government.

Investigators are also looking at how the same fraudster took control of almost half of a London investment bank without paying for the shares.

First London plc – the investment bank whose shares were listed on the Plus stock exchange and whose advisers included Tim Yeo MP and Air Marshal Sir John Walker, a former head of defence intelligence – subsequently went into administration with debts of £8.7m.

BBC Panorama has discovered that Russell King, a convicted fraudster, took control of 49% of First London by claiming he was managing billions of dollars for the Bahraini royal family. The case has been referred to the SFO – which only looks at the country’s highest value frauds – by the Financial Services Authority.

An FSA spokesman said: “In this case the acquisition of control occurred without the FSA having been given the prior notice which the law requires it to be given. Had it been given proper notice it would have been in a position to consider whether it should use its powers to object to and prohibit the change of control. The FSA subsequently identified a number of concerns and pursued a series of leads into what was an extremely complex corporate structure. It would be inappropriate for us to comment further at this time due to confidentiality issues.”

The Panorama programme will show how King then used the name of the bank and its high-profile advisers to give credibility to deals.

They included an attempt to obtain funding for a new company that claimed to have assets worth $2tn and the short-lived takeover of the Football League’s oldest club. In 2009, King was behind a controversial takeover of Notts County which promised to bring millions of pounds of investment from the Middle East. The investment, which appeared to have been guaranteed by First London, never materialised and the club was left £7m in the red – but not before Eriksson agreed to join County as director of football. Nottingham police are investigating.

The coach’s contract included a clause entitling him to €11m of shares in a little-known company called Swiss Commodity Holding, which had been set up a few months earlier and was claiming to have assets worth $2tn from the exclusive rights to North Korea’s gold, coal and iron ore.

King persuaded the former England manager to visit the rogue state as part of an SCH delegation and Eriksson was present at a meeting with the North Korean leadership. “I was in the palace and they were handing over to the North Korean government so-called shares,” he tells the programme. “I asked them how much and what they told me was not millions, it was billions of dollars. They used my name. Of course they did. At the end it became a big, big mistake.”

Panorama’s investigation shows that King was secretly running SCH, which was considering a public listing.

Documents detailing SCH’s claims were prepared by First London plc. The investment bank also sent Walker, who sat on the bank’s advisory board, to check out King and his associates. The air marshal tells the programme: “What do I think of Russell King? Not a lot. He was good at chat, but that was his business. He was a con man. I was taken the same way Sven was taken. They just wanted names.”

King had gained control over First London plc shares after convincing the bank that he was managing billions of dollars of Bahraini cash by introducing some of its executives to senior members of the royal family. But Fawaz Al Khalifa, president of the Bahraini Information Affairs Authority, says King was lying about his royal connections: “He might have met members of the family here or there, but we have no financial connection to him or his company.”

King, who was jailed for insurance fraud in 1991, denies running Notts County, SCH or First London plc.

However, the programme has obtained dozens of emails and testimonies showing he was secretly pulling the strings, including some where he refers to himself as Lord Voldemort, the character from the Harry Potter books who can never be named.

First London plc’s parent company, First London Group plc, is still in business. In a statement, its lawyers said the failure to notify the FSA about the change in ownership was a mistake: “This was simply an error and not done for any ulterior or questionable motive. As far as our client is aware the FSA were satisfied that the information provided was in compliance with all legal and regulatory requirements. Our client is unaware of any investigation by the FSA or SFO into its activities so far as they relate to or involve Russell King.”


The Serious Fraud Office is examining a con that took in Sven-Goran Eriksson and the North Korean government, BBC Panorama has learned.

Investigators are also looking at how the same conman stole a football club and broke a bank.

Convicted fraudster Russell King persuaded the former England manager to join Notts County FC as director of football and to visit North Korea.

Mr King denies any fraud and said he was just a consultant on the deals.

Mr Eriksson was appointed at Notts County in 2009 following a takeover that promised to bring millions of pounds of Middle Eastern investment.

“For me as a football man it was fantastic, building a club from the bottom of League Two and having the funding to do it, to be a Premier League club. It’s like a dream, so I signed. Big mistake,” he said of the deal.

Milk bill
The promised money never arrived and the club was left £7m in debt. Mr Eriksson says there were early signs that all was not as it seemed.

“I started to have doubts when they came and told me the milk bill has not been paid,” he said.

Mr King claimed his Swiss-based mining company had assets worth almost $2 trillion because it had the rights to North Korea’s gold, coal and iron ore.

He told Mr Eriksson the Notts County cash would come from that mining deal. He then persuaded him to join a delegation visiting Pyongyang.

“I was in the palace and they were handing over to the North Korean government so-called shares,” Mr Eriksson told Panorama.

“I asked them how much that was and what they told me was not millions, it was billions of dollars. They used my name. Of course they did. At the end it became a big, big mistake.”

Russell King’s business deals had credibility because they appeared to have the backing of First London plc, an investment bank with advisers including Conservative MP Tim Yeo and Air Marshal Sir John Walker, a former British spymaster.

The bank sent Sir John, a former head of defence intelligence, to check out Mr King and the Korean deal, but he was also taken in.

Sir John said of the deal: “What do I think of Russell King? Not a lot. He was good at chat, but that was his business. He was a con man. I was taken the same way Sven was taken. They just wanted names.”

Mr King also managed to get control of almost half of First London plc without paying a penny for the shares, after he convinced its bankers he was managing billions of dollars for the Bahraini royal family.

But Fawaz Al Khalifa, President of the Bahraini Information Affairs Authority, says that Mr King was lying about his royal connections: “He might have met members of the family here or there, but we have no financial connection to him or his company.”

First London PLC went into administration last year with debts of £8.7m and the Financial Services Authority (FSA) has been examining the deal that gave King control of 49% of its shares. The FSA has now passed its finding to the Serious Fraud Office (SFO).

“In this case the acquisition of control occurred without the FSA having been given the prior notice which the law requires it to be given,” said an FSA spokesman.

First London plc’s parent company, First London Group plc, is still in business. In a statement, its lawyers said the failure to notify the FSA about the change in ownership was a mistake that had been rectified:

“This was simply an error and not done for any ulterior or questionable motive. As far as our client is aware the FSA were satisfied that the information provided was in compliance with all legal and regulatory requirements.

“Our client is unaware of any investigation by the FSA or SFO.”

Lord Voldemort
Mr King, who was jailed for insurance fraud in 1991, denies any involvement in the running of Notts County or First London plc.

But Panorama has obtained dozens of emails and numerous testimonies that show he was secretly pulling the strings at Notts County.

King even referred to himself as Lord Voldemort, the character from the Harry Potter books who can never be named.

The club had been owned by a supporters’ trust, but Mr King persuaded the fans to sell it for just £1 after they met one of his supposedly wealthy benefactors in Bahrain.

Abid Hyat Khan was introduced as a Middle Eastern prince, but Panorama has discovered he is actually on the run from British police.

He absconded from the UK in 2008, when he was due to stand trial for allegedly stealing almost £1m. Khan denies posing as a prince.

The BBC’s Panorama show can be found here.


The desperate turn to private gold mining

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

Pictured above: Samsu Dam construction (Google Earth)

According to the Daily NK:

Located at the base of Mt. Nokbong, near Hyesan in Yangkang Province, one particular village of 24 households saw its schools, public facilities and all other vestiges of welfare disappear following the construction of the Samsoo Power Station in 2004, which deprived the area of power.

And yet this village is now overflowing with people. They are here from all over the country, cramming homes and the nearby valley with one purpose in mind; searching for gold. Housewives, workers, university students, farmers, children, drifters, criminals, soldiers and bureaucrats; men and women alike from all different classes are living in this one place with the same aim.

The majority of people dig, without permission from the authorities and with only rudimentary tools. Their only wish is to avoid having to leave town and, hopefully, find some gold. The soldiers and bureaucrats, on the other hand, do not dig, instead using their authority to cream a share of others’ profits.

The daily mission of most people is to dig a hole to extract the ore, take it to the riverside to wash, and then sell it to buy food. With work clothes and a hammer, wash bowl, strong burlap sack, metal bucket, candles, shovel, rope, and a washcloth and drain (with a wooden partition to make it easier to trap gold), they enter the mine.

First the ore has to be dug out of the mine, at which point it can be taken up to the riverbank in the bucket and sprayed with water to remove stones and dirt, then the gold separated off with the washcloth.

Those who get on the wrong side of the bureaucrats or armed forces in this process have their tools confiscated, and any gold they have sweated for as well. Complaint is out of the question. Men who show the slightest resistance are flogged and women sprayed with water and sworn at. For this reason, many people consider bribes of cigarettes or alcohol to be a necessary cost of doing business there.

Those without money enter the mines under the cover of darkness, collect large quantities of dirt and take it away to clean.

As you would expect in these circumstances, accidents are commonplace.

On June 16, 2008, a 39-year old man from Hyesan who had carried more than 200 bags full of soil to the riverbank since dawn finally stopped for lunch, when he heard a cry for help from a person who had tried, and failed, to cross the river. The rescue mission became a tragedy when the man himself drowned.

That particular spot had been used to hunt for gold when the reservoir was dry; but now it was more than 10m underwater. The man, exhausted from hours of backbreaking labor, had been unable to get out. Other people who had been dealing with their own ore nearby tried to save him, but it was no easy task.

The security forces and army eventually combined to retrieve the man two days later. Two days after that, the deceased man’s widow returned to dig for gold on the same riverbank where she had lost both her husband and 9-year old son.

This is just one story that amply demonstrates the heart wrenching reality of life in North Korea. Even to the present day hunger continues to drive people to the foothills of Mt Nokbong. The struggle to survive goes on as ordinary people dig away at the riverbed, all the while hoping to avoid becoming a victim of the regime.

You can read previous posts on the impact of the Samsu Dam here.

Read the full story here:
A Modern Day Gold Rush
Daily NK
Kang Mi-jin


DPRK issues KWP commemorative coins–now being traded

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

UPDATE: The Daily NK (2011-3-7) reports that the DPRK’s recently minted commemorative coins have been been appearing in the markets:

Chosun Workers’ Party cadres who attended the Delegates’ Conference in Pyongyang on September 28th were each presented with a commemorative gold coin. Now, however, some of the same coins have begun to appear on the open market, according to a source from North Pyongan Province who spoke with The Daily NK on Sunday.

The commemorative coins were minted from gold, silver and nickel by the Chosun Central Bank, and form part of a tradition of coin presentation for state events or to commemorate notable national achievements which began with the 75th birthday of Kim Il Sung in 1987 and continued with the joint 50th anniversary of the Party founding and 50th anniversary of the liberation of the country from Japanese rule in 1995.

The money needed to obtain the raw materials for the 2010 coins was apparently gathered by Bukang Trading Company, which operates under the Workers’ Party.

“The Delegates’ Conference commemorative coins which have appeared on the market are mostly being sold by people who trade with China,” the source explained. “They are not pure gold, but there is a good amount of gold in them, so the price is reasonably high.”

Kim, who defected to South Korea in the second half of the 1990s, said that such coins used to be treated with the greatest of respect, explaining, “When I was in North Korea, I saw a number of commemorative coins. Even until the end of the 1990s, people looked after them at home as a precious thing and a source of great pride. The coin itself was evidence of a person’s status.”

However, recently people’s values have changed a great deal. The source from North Pyongan said, “In those days, even a starving man wouldn’t sell a ‘gift’ from the Suryeong or the General. But now, no matter how precious the gift may be, people will sell it in the market without a second thought.”

“Watches with Kim Il Sung’s name on and various commemorative coins do appear in the market sometimes,” he went on, adding, “Things which were beyond our wildest dreams in the olden days are becoming normal. Sellers point out, ‘What am I supposed to do with possession of this kind of thing?’ Having something to eat is better.”

More than being a simple indication of difficult economic times, the act of selling something which was intended to be thought of as a personal gift from a benevolent leader appears to present compelling evidence of the deteriorating authority of the regime and its control of social discipline. This seems to be particularly so given that the commemorative coins must be being sold by cadres, in theory the most loyal group of North Korean citizens and certainly one which needs to remain loyal if the regime is to maintain its grip on power in the long term.

ORIGINAL POST (2010-10-4): The DPRK is issuing gold and silver coins to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the founding of the Worker’s Party.

Images courtesy of


Increase in DPRK’s mineral resources exports to China expected again for this year

Monday, February 28th, 2011

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

The trade volume between North Korea and China has steadily increased, reaching its record high of USD 3.4 billion in 2010. Total exports amounted to 1.19 billion USD while imports doubled that figure to USD 2.22 billion. Imports have continued to grow, increasing by 2.4 times over the previous year.

Since the Cheonan incident and the implementation of May 24 sanctions, inter-Korean economic cooperation has come to a halt, naturally resulting in rise in exports to China. In particular, a significant growth in anthracites exports was observed. The monthly anthracites exports that averaged around USD 10 million surpassed USD 70 million mark last August and maintained USD 50 million monthly average between September to November. In addition, cost-per-ton of anthracite in March which was USD 52.2, jumped to USD 82.8 in November, a climb of 60 percent. This boost is attributed to its increased export.

The current supply of electric power consists mostly of hydroelectric power — reaching over 60 percent– but during the winter season most of the hydropower plants are unoperational due to frozen facilities from harsh winter weather. Anthracites were the alternative resource to fill this gap. Sacrificing power production and exporting great amount of anthracites despite severe winter is a strong indication of the poor foreign currency situation in North Korea.

In its New Year’s joint editorial, North Korea placed heavy emphasis on its anthracite export that took up 60 percent of its total exports. In the statement, four vanguard sectors of coal, electricity, metals, and railroads were highlighted as important industries as “rich underground resources that will help with securing funds and resolving raw material problems.” This is the first time in 13 years – that is, since the Arduous March — for coal to be mentioned first in the New Year’s message.

North Korea also began to lift export restraints of mineral resources like coal and silver from the latter half of last year and ordered to increase imports of rice and corns in place of minerals.

The reason food procurement is placed first at the expense of its mineral resources is believed to be associated with the implementation of the succession involving Kim Jong Un, and to keep North Korean people’s dissatisfaction under control and manage the domestic situation.

North had placed restraints on coal, gold, silver, lead, and zinc exports from 2007 through adopting export control of mineral resources.

In addition, North Korea and China will meet in Beijing to sign an agreement on joint development of underground resources. This agreement will include Musan Mine and rare-earth mines that POSCO (The Pohang Iron and Steel Company of South Korea) has shown interest in in the past for development. China’s moves in this sector are suspected as China’s attempt to monopolize the DPRK’s underground resources.

The DPRK’s Joint Venture and Investment Guidance Bureau and China’s Ministry of Commerce were expected to meet on February 15 to discuss agreements related to underground resources development. On the agenda was Musan Mine, abundant in gold and anthracite, and other mines rich in rare-earth elements. Other mines are also known to be specified in the agreement.

China is expected to bring private companies into the underground resources development project after reaching an agreement with the DPRK. According to our source, “both parties will establish a joint venture investment corporation in Hong Kong after signing the agreement.”

Construction of a highway connecting Heilong City of Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture to Nampyong and Chongjin of North Korea and railway system linking the cities of Heilong, Nampyong, and Musan are currently underway, expected to be in operation by end of this year. Jilin Province and Ministry of Railways of China began construction of this railway system from October 2010 investing CNY 1.19 billion, which runs a distance of 41.68 km. However, it is expected to extend further onto Chongjin and is considered to become the major transportation hub, integrating economic cooperation between the two countries.

Musan Iron Mine is known as the largest outdoor iron mine in Asia and Tonghua Iron and Steel Group along with three other Chinese corporations acquired 50-year development rights of Musan Iron Mine. They are bringing in about 120 tons of iron ore each year and more is expected to be brought in once the Heilong-Musan rail link is completed.


DPRK-Chinese mining deal

Monday, February 7th, 2011

According to Yonhap:

North Korea and China are expected to sign an agreement on joint development of the North’s underground resources in the middle of this month in Beijing, a source here said Sunday.

“It has been learned that Pyongyang and Beijing are expected to conclude a deal to jointly develop North Korea’s underground resources on Feb. 15, one day before the birthday of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il,” said the source, noting the accord will be signed in Beijing between China’s Commerce Ministry and the North’s Joint Venture Investment Committee.

“Specifically, the two sides may agree to jointly develop natural resources such as gold, anthracites and rare earths under the bilateral deal. Following the agreement, the two countries are likely to establish a joint venture company in Hong Kong,” said the source, asking to remain anonymous.

Trade between North Korea and China reached US$3.06 billion in the first 11 months of last year, which marked a rise of 9.6 percent from the 2008 annual volume of $2.7 billion. Mineral resources like coals and iron ores account for over 30 percent of the North’s exports to China.

Chinese mining investors have had mixed results in the DPRK despite geographical proximity and monopsony purchasing power (the Chinese can offer lower prices because in many cases they are the only purchaser/investor).

At one point, a Chinese firm had a controlling share of the DPRK’s Hyesan Youth Copper mine (Satellite image here).  As best I can tell, the mine is no longer operable because of flooding from nearby dam construction.

A Chinese firm had also invested in the Musan Mine, the DPRK’s largest, conveniently located on the Chinese border (Satellite image here). This deal also fell trough (see here).

I have heard informally that Chinese mining investors do not particularly like doing business in the DPRK because their North Korean business partners routinely violate contract terms and local officials need to be bribed repeatedly.  Today Chinese mining firms operate across the world in both developing and developed countries, so why bother with the DPRK?

The particular deal mentioned in this Yonhap article is interesting because it hints that the Chinese and North Korean central governments are setting the terms for mining investment in the DPRK for the first time.  This will give local officials less room for post-contractual rent-seeking behavior and could smooth the way for regular/predictable business operations in the DPRK.

Again, centralized corruption is preferable to decentralized corruption for investors.

Read the full Yonhap story here:
N. Korea, China likely to ink deal on joint resource development


Room (Bureau) 38 allegedly restored

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

According ot the Choson Ilbo:

North Korea in March restored a special department in the Workers Party codenamed Room 38 which manages leader Kim Jong-il’s coffers and personal slush funds, it emerged Monday. The North last fall merged Room 38 with Room 39, which manages party slush funds.

“Rooms 38 and 39 were merged to simplify Kim Jong-il’s slush funds,” said a North Korean source. “But when it became difficult to secure hard currency due to international sanctions, Room 38 seems to have been restored because there was a feeling that Room 39 alone can’t meet the need.”

Room 38 is reportedly led by Kim Tong-il, who heads three regional departments in charge of earning hard currency.

Room 39 tries to maximize earnings from gold and zinc mining and farming and fisheries. It also manages stores and hotels exclusively for foreigners in Pyongyang. Room 39 seems to have suffered badly due to the recent suspension of inter-Korean trade. “Taesong Bank and Zokwang Trading, which received remittances from Mt. Kumgang tourism, are both controlled by Room 39, and is also in charge of the exports of agricultural and fisheries products,” said a government source.

Kim Jong-il needs dollars to maintain the party elite’s loyalty to him and his heir presumptive. He is said to have told party bigwigs in February, “From now on I will judge your loyalty based on the amount you contribute to the fund.” His son Jong-un is also said to be amassing separate slush funds for his own use.

But international sanctions on exports of weapons, counterfeit dollars, fake cigarettes and drugs remain in place, and the United States is pushing ahead with additional financial sanctions over the North’s sinking of the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan in March. Pyongyang was dealt a heavy blow in 2005 when the U.S. froze US$25 million in the Banco Delta Asia in Macao which was apparently for Kim’s personal use.

Kim earlier this year appointed his high school friend Jon Il-chun head of Room 39. Jon was also named chairman of the National Development Bank, established early this year with a view to conducting normal international financial transactions to induce foreign investment. “North Korea seems to be planning to divert part of foreign investment to Kim’s slush fund,” said a government official.

NK Leadership Watch has more

Read the full story here:
Kim Jong-il Restores Special Department to Swell Coffers
Choson Ilbo


Brazil, North Korea: Brothers in trade

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

Bertil Lintner wrties in the Asia Times:

For more than a decade, the world around North Korea has been shrinking. In the wake of its missile and nuclear tests and recent accusations that it torpedoed a South Korean naval vessel, the list of internationally imposed sanctions and trade restrictions aimed at isolating the reclusive state has grown ever longer.

But the North Koreans, who have been in a state of war for more than half a century, have often found ingenious ways around those restrictions and added pressures from the United States, Japan and other countries, most visibly seen in the string of front companies and bank accounts it maintains across Asia.

Recent indications are that Pyongyang has sought willing trade partners outside of Asia and its new closest commercial ally appears to be Brazil. Relations between the two countries have warmed considerably since leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva became president in January 2003.

The official Chinese news agency Xinhua reported in October 2004 that North Korea planned to open an embassy in Brasilia, its fourth in the Latin and South American region after Havana, Cuba, Lima, Peru and Mexico City. On May 23, 2006, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and the Brazilian media reported that the two countries had signed a trade agreement.

More recently, the KCNA reported last December that a “protocol on the amendment to the trade agreement” had been signed in the capital Pyongyang. “Present at the signing ceremony from the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or North Korea] side were Ri Ryong Nam, minister of foreign trade, and officials concerned and from the Brazilian side Arnaldo Carrilho, Brazilian ambassador to the DPRK, and embassy officials,” according to the news report.

China’s role in facilitating trade between Brazil and North Korea remains a matter of conjecture, but it is significant that the state mouthpiece Xinhua has eagerly reported on the warming of relations between the two countries. China remains Pyongyang’s most important base for all kinds of foreign trade – legitimate as well as more convoluted business transactions through front companies in Beijing and elsewhere.

But North Korea also needs more discreet trading partners, as China is often criticized in international forums for its close relations with the North Korean regime and is undoubtedly closely watched by Western intelligence agencies. And it is hardly surprising that Brazil, which is known to harbor its own nuclear ambitions, albeit for stated peaceful purposes, has emerged as such a friendly nation to Pyongyang.

Significantly, Brazil has established what appears to be an understanding with another aspiring nuclear power: Iran. “Also like Iran, Brazil has cloaked key aspects of its nuclear technology in secrecy while insisting the program is for peaceful purposes, claims nuclear weapons experts have debunked,” according to an April 20, 2006 Associated Press report.

While Brazil is more cooperative than Iran on international inspections, some worry its new enrichment capability – which eventually will create more fuel than is needed for its two nuclear plants [1] – suggests that South America’s biggest nation may be rethinking its commitment to nuclear non-proliferation.

”Brazil is following a path very similar to Iran, but Iran is getting all the attention,” said Marshall Eakin, a Brazil expert at Vanderbilt University in the United States. ”In effect, Brazil is benefiting from Iran’s problems.”

In September 2009, Lula declared before the United Nations General Assembly: “Iran is entitled to the same rights as any other country in its use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.” He added to reporters outside the UN General Assembly, “I defend for Iran the same rights with respect to nuclear energy that I do for Brazil.” He added: “If anyone is ashamed of having relations with Iran, it’s not Brazil.”

But it is Lula’s budding cooperation with North Korea that is especially worrying to some Western observers. According to one longtime observer of the North Korean scene, “Both nations have long-standing ambitions to develop a nuclear capability as well as missiles and space-launched vehicles. Both have been the subject of intense US political pressure at times, Brazil on-and-off, North Korea all the time. And Brazil has access to technology that North Korea can only dream about.”

Because Brazil is not on any international sanctions list, it is easier for it to obtain dual-use materials. It remains to be proven, however, that Brazil has served as a conduit for such goods ultimately destined for North Korea.

According to official trade statistics, available at, North Korea’s largest trading partner in 2009 was China, with two-way commerce totaling US$2.67 billion. That was followed by South-North Korean trade worth $1.68 billion. A surprising third on the list was Brazil with US$221 million in two-way trade, well ahead of Singapore, Hong Kong and North Korea’s other traditional Asian trading partners.

The nominal figure may not be impressive in an international context, but it is substantial for North Korea, a country with an estimated total gross domestic product of about $22 billion. North Korea’s trade with Brazil has recently increased almost at the pace it has decreased with Thailand, from where it previously sourced dual-use chemicals, raw materials and machinery. Thailand no longer figures prominently in recent trade statistics, which is noteworthy given that their two-way trade reached a record US$331 million in 2004.

Those deals were done under the government of Thaksin Shinawatra, who at one point even proposed signing a full-blown free-trade agreement with North Korea. In August 2005, the former Thai premier was formally invited by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to visit Pyongyang. The visit never materialized, however, and when Thaksin was ousted in a September 2006 military coup, Thai-North Korean relations began to deteriorate. By 2008, bilateral trade between Thailand and North Korea fell to $76 million and in 2009 dipped further to $47.1 million.

Among North Korea’s more remarkable export items before the September 2006 coup in Thailand were 1.3 tons of gold and 10 tons of silver. Another pre-arranged shipment of 12 tons of silver arrived in Bangkok in October of that year. However, business is now reportedly sluggish at the two main trading companies that North Korea is known to maintain in Bangkok, Star Bravo and Kosun Export Import.

Successive Thai governments that have ruled the country since Thaksin’s overthrow are believed to have complied more strictly with international pressure to restrict dealings with North Korea. In Brazil, however, North Korea has a long history of involvement with various leftist groups, the distant offshoots of which are now in power in Brasilia.

North Korea expert Joseph S Bermudez wrote in his 1990 study “Terrorism: The North Korean Connection”:

From 1968 to 1971 the DPRK provided financial and military assistance to several leftist organizations in Brazil, most notably to Carlos Marighella’s National Liberating Action (Acao Libertadora Nacional – ALN) and the Revolutionary Popular Vanguard (Vanguarda Popular Revolucionaria – VPR). By November 1970, the DPRK established a training base in the Porto Alegre area, where a small number of guerrillas were given guerrilla warfare, small arms, and ideological training. A small number of ALN and VPR personnel is believed to have also received training within the DPRK.

Marighella – a Marxist, writer and founder of the ALN – was the leader of a militant movement that fought against Brazil’s US-supported, authoritarian right-wing governments in the 1960s. In September 1969, the guerrillas even managed to kidnap US ambassador Charles Burke Elbrick for 78 hours. After his release in exchange for 15 imprisoned leftists, Elbrick remarked, “Being an ambassador is not always a bed or roses.” Two months later, Marighella was killed in an encounter with Brazil’s police. But on November 4, 2009, the 40th anniversary of the death of Marighella, Lula declared him a “national hero”.

Although ideology may be less important than profits in today’s capitalist world, there are old emotional bonds between North Korea and Brazil under Lula that should not be entirely discounted. Brazil may be among the countries which have condemned North Korea’s nuclear program, as was shown when, in May 2009, the Brazilian government called on North Korea “to sign the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and to strictly observe the moratorium on nuclear tests”.

But bilateral trade between the two sides is nevertheless – in relative terms – now booming. In May last year, North Korea’s Foreign Affairs Minister Pak Ui-chun arrived in Brazil to meet with his Brazilian counterpart, Celso Amorim. Pak expressed Pyongyang’s interest in receiving assistance in its deep-water oil prospecting efforts from PETROBRAS (Brazilian Petroleum Corporation), while Amorim said his country was reportedly interested in exporting what he referred to as “farm” machinery.

So far no military hardware, or material that could have military applications, is known to have changed hands between North Korea and Brazil. But Pyongyang has found at least one new trading partner which could potentially replace some of its former business allies in Asia. It’s a budding relationship that will be closely monitored by North Korea watchers in Japan and the West.

Read the full story here:
Brazil, North Korea: Brothers in trade
Asia Times
Bertil Lintner
Asia Times


DPRK looking for Chinese investors in Taebong gold mine

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

According to the Daily NK:

The chairman of North Korea’s State Development Bank, Jeon Il Chun visited China on April 8, reportedly to try and bring Chinese investment to Daebong Mine, located near Hyesan, Yangkang Province.

Daebong Mine is one of North Korea’s major gold mines, managed under the auspices of the No. 39 Department of the Central Committee, a special department charged with raising funds for Kim Jong Il’s personal use. Jeon Il Chun is the person in charge of the No. 39 Department.

Attempts to sell shares in a gold mine directly controlled by the 39 Department, Kim Jong Il’s own private safe, to China seem to indirectly imply that Kim is suffering from a debilitating foreign currency supply crisis.

One Daily NK source in China who is well-acquainted with North Korean affairs reported that while Jeon was in China, he met with the management of three or four Chinese enterprises which already have investments in North Korea, and suggested investment conditions under which the North could transfer some of its mineral rights to them and receive capital investments in return.

The source said, “For now, as far as I know, executive managers of the No. 39 Department have been in contact with Chinese enterprises. Since the Workers’ Party is trying to sell shares in a gold mine, it seems the funding of the Party might be serious.”

“It is not clear whether or not this attempt was done on Kim Jong Il’s instructions, but attracting foreign investment in a gold mine is not a commonplace affair,” the source pointed out, adding that an investor has not yet been put in place.

What is the Daebong Mine for?

The Daebong Mine is a relatively large gold mine on the border of Woonheung and Gapsan in Yangkang Province. Until 2001, a Yangkang provincial foreign currency earning enterprise and the foreign currency earning department of the People’s Safety Agency jointly managed it. However, in May, 2002, it became a No. 39 Department affiliated enterprise.

The No. 39 Department has been raising private funds for the leader and Party operations under the Finance and Accounting Department of the Central Committee since the mid-1970s. According to defectors, it has the highest authority and the largest funds of all North Korea’s foreign currency earning enterprises. Especially, it has the ability to mobilize tremendous financial resources since it manages and controls supplies of gold and silver and rare non-ferrous metals.

A source from Yangkang Province explained, “According to Chongjin University of Mining and Metals and Kim Chaek University of Technology, the purity of the gold from the Daebong Mine is more than 76 percent, while production from Hoichang and Eunsan in South Pyongang Province is 63 percent and 61 percent respectively. More than 150kg of solid gold is produced annually, so this mine is known as the ‘loyalty mine’.”

“People say that the government earns four or five million dollars a year through this mine. Neither Yangkang Provincial Committee nor Hyesan Municipal Committee is involved with the business of the mine.”

The source added, “Since the No. 39 Department deals with the mine, only those discharged soldiers with good family backgrounds are dispatched there by the Central Committee. In October of last year, around 200 discharged soldiers with good family backgrounds came to the mine.”

Almost all the gold produced in the Daebong Mine is stored in Swiss and Austrian banks in gold bars.

A Chinese company had a contract with the DPRK’s Musan Mine which has been canceled for an unknown reason.

Click here to see what I believe is the mine’s location.

Read the full article here:
No. 39 Department Hawking Shares in Key Gold Mine
Daily NK
Lee Sung Jin