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DPRK Organized Crime

Unlike Latin America or Europe, where organized crime attempts to penetrate the state, North Korea is penetrating organized crime. With the economy in shambles, the government of North Korea has turned to drug trafficking and organized crime for funding. A number of indicators suggest that North Korea is involved in the methamphetamine, opium, and heroin trafficking. Not only do the North Koreans cooperate with organized crime groups, but members of the armed forces, the diplomatic corps, and the intelligence service actually engage in trafficking of narcotics.

A South Korean researcher said 06 July 2016 that North Korea earned nearly one trillion won, or nearly US$900 million, each year from illegal cyber activities such as running gambling sites. Yoo Dong-ryol, head of the Korea Institute of Liberal Democracy, made the remark during a cyber security conference hosted by the Defense Security Command. Yoo said that a South Korean was arrested in 2013 for purchasing a gambling program manufactured in North Korea and bringing it into the South. He said that 15 North Korean nationals were also arrested in Cambodia in 2014 for operating an illegal gambling site. The researcher said that money confiscated by the Cambodian police amounted to some ten billion won at the time. Yoo claimed that based on this information and other intelligence, North Korea was estimated to earn about an annual one trillion won from overseas-based illegal cyber activities.

For decades, North Koreans have been apprehended trafficking in narcotics and engaged in other forms of criminal behavior, including passing counterfeit U.S. currency and trade in copyright products. Numerous instances of North Korean drug trafficking and trade in copyright products, and other criminal behavior by North Korean officials, in many cases using valuable state assets, such as military-type patrol boats, has caused many observers and the Department to come to the view that it is likely, though not certain that the North Korean Government sponsors such illegal behavior as a way to earn foreign currency for the state and for its leaders.

Western intelligence agencies have confirmed the presence of large-scale opium production facilities in North Korea. But the North Koreans are not limited to drug production facilities. There is also evidence of printing plants used to produce high-quality counterfeit currency. And Japan grows increasingly nervous as members of its local Korean population with ties to the North become involved more deeply in this dirty, underground trade.

In the case of North Korea, some analysts have suggested that North Korean government-supported criminal activity, carefully targeted to meet specific needs, generated at least $85 million in 1997: $71 million from drugs and $15 million from counterfeiting. Estimates vary, but most observers believe that the total figure is at least $100 million. However, there are indications that the figures may be considerably higher: $500 million to $1 billion annually generated by criminal activities.

In 2001 and 2002, Japanese officials became increasingly alarmed by the encroachment of espionage and drug-running ships believed to be of North Korean origin into Japanese waters. The ships were estimated to have made the crossing from their base in North Korea up to twelve times a year, often releasing smaller boats that in turn launched rubber rafts to ferry agents to and from the Japanese coast. It is believed that the missions of these agents included gathering information about the outside world, smuggling money, drugs and goods, buying technology useful for its weapons programs, swaying influential Japanese officials in Japan regarding North Korea, recruiting ethnic Korean residents in Japan to gather information about South Korea, and conducting surveillance on U.S. and Japanese military installations. The agents were believed to have relied primarily upon the approximately 200,000 Korean residents of Japan who identify themselves as North Korean citizens, and using threats against family members in North Korea as a means of coercion.

North Korea is believed to be a major supplier of methamphetamines to Japanese organized crime syndicates. In December 2001, Japanese coast guard patrol boats chased and exchanged fire with one suspected North Korean spy ship disguised as a Chinese fishing boat. The confrontation ended when the mystery boat sank inside Chinas exclusive economic zone. North Korean cigarettes and a badge of the deceased leader Kim Il-Sung were found as some of the evidence of the ships origin. Dozens of automatic weapons, a surface to air missile launcher and an underwater scooter capable of carrying three people were found in the sunken ship, along with ten bodies.

The "Pong-Su" incident in Australia in 2003 drew worldwide attention to the possibility of DPRK state trading of drugs. The "Pong Su" is a sea-going cargo vessel, owned by a North Korean enterprise, which was seized in Australia in mid-April 2003 after reportedly delivering a large quantity of pure heroin to accomplices on shore. The "Pong Su" case trial began in late January 2004 in Australia.

On two occasions in 2004 North Korean diplomats were arrested for involvement in narcotics smuggling. In June, Egyptian law enforcement authorities detained two North Korean diplomats working in the Commercial Office at the North Korean Embassy in Egypt for attempting to deliver 150,000 tablets of Clonazipam. Clonazipam is a Schedule IV benzodiazepine used to treat seizures and anxiety. Both North Korean diplomats were expelled from Egypt.

Once engaged in drug trafficking activity, organizations and nations find it hard to stop. In effect, what happens in many cases is that the activity becomes institutionalized and the profit from the trade addictive. So it has been suggested that even if governments like the government of North Korea, wanted to cease their criminal activity, it would be very difficult for them to do so.

There still is insufficient evidence to say with certainty that state-sponsored trafficking by the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) has stopped entirely in 2010. The continued lack of public reports of drug trafficking with a direct DPRK connection suggests that such high-profile drug trafficking has either ceased or been sharply reduced. No confirmed instances of large-scale drug trafficking involving the DPRK state or its nationals were reported in 2010. 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 DPRK state institution involvement.




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