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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Washington File 21 May 2003

Text: North Korean Officials Have Long History in Crime, U.S. Official Says

(William Bach testimony to Senate Panel May 20) (1780)
North Korean officials have a long history of criminal behavior,
according to
William Bach, the director of the Office of African, Asian and
European Affairs at the State Department's Bureau for International
Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.
In prepared testimony presented May 20 to the Senate committee on
Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Financial Management, the Budget
and International Security, Bach said: "For some 30 years, officials
of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea have been apprehended for
trafficking in narcotics and other criminal activity, including
passing counterfeit U.S. notes."
He noted that since 1976, there have been at least 50 arrests and/or
drug seizures involving North Koreans in more than 20 countries around
the world.
"More recently, there have been very clear indications, especially
from a series of methamphetamine seizures in Japan, that North Koreans
traffic in, and probably manufacture, methamphetamine drugs," he said.
North Korea, Bach said, is also involved in counterfeiting, smuggling,
and trade in endangered species.
North Korean traffickers have links to Russian, Japanese, Taiwanese,
China-Hong Kong, and Thai organized crime elements, he said.
Following is the text as provided by the Senate Foreign Relations
Subcommittee on Governmental Affairs web site:
(begin text)
May 20, 2003
Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman. I would like to express my sincere
appreciation for the opportunity to testify before the Subcommittee on
the subject of narcotics trafficking and other criminal activity with
a connection to the Democratic People's Republic of (North)
For some 30 years, officials of the Democratic People's Republic of
Korea have been apprehended for trafficking in narcotics and other
criminal activity, including passing counterfeit U.S. notes. Since
1976, there have been at least 50 arrests/drug seizures involving
North Koreans in more than 20 countries around the world. More
recently, there have been very clear indications, especially from a
series of methamphetamine seizures in Japan, that North Koreans
traffic in, and probably manufacture, methamphetamine drugs.
Given the tight controls in place throughout North Korea and the
continuing seizures of amphetamines and heroin suspected of
originating from North Korea, one wonders how any entity other than
the state itself could be responsible for this high-volume drug
trafficking. Drug transfers between North Korean vessels at sea also
suggest probable state involvement. Likewise, it is very hard to
imagine any entity other than the North Korean State undertaking
trafficking on the scale and operational complexity of the "Pong Su"
incident in Australia.
Early Instances of Trafficking by North Koreans and the Recent "Pong
Su" Trafficking Incident in Australia
Much of what we know about North Korean drug trafficking comes from
drug seizures and apprehensions abroad. A typical incidence of drug
trafficking in the mid-seventies, when trafficking by North Koreans
first emerged as a significant problem, would involve a North Korean
employee of a diplomatic mission or state enterprise who would be
apprehended with illicit drugs by police or border crossing officials.
In other cases, police authorities would hear reports that North
Koreans were trafficking or offering to provide illicit drugs. The
police would respond with a sting-type operation that frequently
resulted in drug seizures and the arrest of North Korean individuals.
Information on North Korean trafficking has sometimes come from
third-country nationals accused of drug offenses who have provided
police and prosecutors with information on North Korean operations. In
a few cases, police received intelligence about North Korean
trafficking and followed the operation from the planning stage to drug
For example, in February of 1995, Russian law enforcement officials in
Vladivostok arrested two North Korean employees of a North Korean
state logging company and seized eight kilograms of heroin. According
to the traffickers' statements, the shipment seized was a sample that
was supposed to demonstrate the quality of 2.2 MT (4840 lbs.) of
heroin to follow. The North Koreans assured a Russian undercover
police operative that they could supply that amount of heroin, if
According to reports, on April 16, police in Australia observed the
"Pong Su" relatively close to shore and followed two ethnic Chinese
suspects on the shore as they left the beach and headed for a near-by
hotel. The next morning, the two suspects were apprehended at their
hotel with 50 Kg (110 pounds) of pure heroin. Then, in a careful
search of the beach where the two suspects had been seen the day
before, Australian police discovered the body of a North Korean
recently buried close to a dingy. They surmised that the dingy had
capsized while bringing the heroin ashore, drowning one of the North
Koreans. Police also apprehended another North Korean in the immediate
area. Unable to get back to his boat, he had simply remained in the
area where the drugs came ashore the night before. A third ethnic
Chinese trafficker suspect was also taken into custody.
Australian authorities ordered the Pong Su into harbor, but the ship
attempted to escape into international waters. After a helicopter
boarding by Australian Army Special Operations Forces, the Pong Su was
brought into port. The ethnic Chinese suspects and the captain and
crew of the Pong Su have been charged with narcotics trafficking. The
Australian Foreign Minister called in the North Korean Ambassador to
lodge a formal protest.
Methamphetamine Trafficking to Japan and Heroin Trafficking to Taiwan
By 1995, North Korea had begun importing significant quantities of
ephedrine, the main input for methamphetamine production ("Meth"). In
January of 1998, Thai Customs temporarily held 2.2 MT of ephedrine
ordered in India and consigned to North Korea. At about this time
"Meth" was emerging as the drug of choice all over Asia. Japan is the
largest single market for methamphetamine in Asia, with more than 2.2
million abusers and an estimated consumption of 20 MT of
methamphetamine per year. During the next several years the Japanese
seized numerous illicit shipments of methamphetamine that they believe
originated in North Korea. In most of these seizures, traffickers' and
North Korean ships rendezvoused at sea in North Korean territorial
waters for transfer of the narcotics to the Japanese traffickers'
vessels. Taiwanese authorities also seized several shipments of
methamphetamine and heroin that had been transferred to the
traffickers' ships from North Korean vessels.
The sharp increase in large methamphetamine seizures in Japan after
earlier indications of North Korean efforts to import ephedrine
strongly suggests a state-directed conspiracy to manufacture and
traffic in this narcotic to the largest single market for it in Asia.
Thirty-five percent of methamphetamine seizures in Japan from 1998 to
2002 originated in North Korea, and Japanese police believe that a
high percentage of the "Meth" on Japanese streets originates in North
Korea. Likewise, seizures of drugs trafficked to Taiwan in similar
fashion, (i.e., with traffickers' vessels picking-up the drugs from
North Korean vessels), suggests centralized direction. In both cases
(Japanese and Taiwanese), large quantities of drugs, expensive even at
wholesale prices, are transferred from North Korean state-owned ships,
on occasion by men in uniform, to ships provided by Japanese or ethnic
Chinese traffickers to be brought surreptitiously to Japan or Taiwan.
The United States Secret Service Counterfeit Division is aware of
numerous cases of counterfeiting with a North Korean connection.
Typical of such cases was one reported in Macao in 1994, when North
Korean trading company executives, who carried diplomatic passports,
were arrested for depositing $250,000 in counterfeit notes in a Macao
Bank. There are numerous other counterfeiting incidents with links to
Macao banks, North Korea and North Korean diplomats.
Smuggling and Trade in Counterfeit Goods
There are numerous well-researched press reports on smuggling
activities by North Korean nationals and diplomats abroad. One group
of articles reports a very active trade in smuggled cigarettes with
China. A 1995 Associated Press article reported the seizure by
Taiwanese authorities of 20 shipping containers of counterfeit
cigarette wrappers destined for North Korea. According to officials of
the cigarette company whose label and trademark were being violated,
the seized materials could have been used to package cigarettes with a
retail value of $1 billion. This incident suggests North Korean
intentions to produce counterfeit cigarettes. We have also seen
numerous similar reports of smuggling incidents involving North Korean
diplomats in the late 80s and into the mid-90s, including drug
smuggling attempts, counterfeit money-passing incidents, etc. Seen
together with North Koreas severe economic problems, these incidents
suggest that North Korean diplomatic representatives were engaged in
criminal activities to generate funds for their cash-strapped
government or to reduce some of the burden to maintain their own
presence abroad.
Trade in Endangered Species
The Hong Kong "South China Morning Post" reported on North Korean
involvement in trade in endangered species in Africa. Relying on an
investigative report prepared by an NGO called the Environmental
Investigation Agency, the "Post" reported that North Koreans were
involved in smuggling of a significant number of rhino horns from
Africa to Guangdong. The smuggling involved moving the horn in
diplomatic bags through North Korean embassies and consulates in
Africa and China. The NGO investigator concluded: "My opinion is that
the North Koreans were using the rhino horns to get hard currency for
the country." Although this ambitious smuggling-for-profit operation
could have been carried out independently by the individuals involved,
its scale suggests that such a theory is highly unlikely. Such a
scheme probably involved and was likely planned by a North Korean
government entity.
North Korean Connections with Organized Crime
North Korean traffickers have links to Russian, Japanese, Taiwanese,
China-Hong Kong, and Thai organized crime elements. In all cases, the
relationship began as one of "wholesaler" with "retailer." North
Koreans with large quantities of drugs to sell have sold them to
criminal groups with the retail network necessary to move the drugs to
consumers. It appears that some organized crime elements (e.g.,
Yakuza, Triads) approached the North Koreans because they knew that
the North Koreans had drugs to sell.
This "wholesaler-retailer" relationship seems to have evolved in
recent years. Incidents such as the Pong Su arrests, for example,
demonstrate that North Korean traffickers are becoming involved
farther down the trafficking chain.
Mr. Chairman, I thank you and members of the committee for your
attention, and I would be pleased to answer any of your questions.
(end text)
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)