Beef, Drugs Popular Chuseok Gifts for Officials

[Chuseok in North Korea]
Lee Sang Yong  |  2014-09-09 11:53

Chuseok is one of the biggest and most important holidays on the Korean Peninsula; family members come together to share food and give thanks to their ancestors for an abundant harvest. In 2014, Chuseok Day falls on September 8, but the holiday is observed for a total of three days [September 7–9], during which Daily NK will release a special series of articles covering practices and influences of the holiday in North Korea.

In North Korea, the gift-giving culture of exchanging high-priced goods amongst officials is growing rapidly, just in time for the Chuseok holiday. Daily NK has learned through informed sources within the country that officials are bribed with payments of beef, despite the illegality of slaughtering cows, and even worse, a drug locally known as ice (crystal methamphetamine, or crystal meth).

A source in South Hwanghae Province reported to Daily NK on September 7th, When Chuseok draws nears, officials and the donju [newly affluent middle class] become engaged in working their way to the head of the line for bribes. Currently, the most opulent bribe one can give at the holidays is a gift of meat and cash.

He went on to say that during holiday season, officials now spend more time in the markets, working on maintaining their connections and influence, than with their families. In the old days, a persons rank was the indicator of his influence and power; now, its the era of money in North Korea.

For Chuseok and other holidays, there are officials that must be, without fail, approached and given bribes. This includes the following: the market manager [in charge assigning merchants to their locations, collecting fees, etc.] the State Security Department [SSD] member in charge of surveillance and regulations, and fuel wardens who manage gasoline and diesel oil.

North Koreas rampant bribery culture has contributed to a spreading awareness of the importance of good relations with officials if one wants to remain untroubled while taking part in market activities. Although giving and receiving bribes is now considered a matter of course, the kinds of bribes given are diverse, and the price of bribes is increasing.

During the build up to Chuseok, Most utilize the Beijing to Pyongyang train to bring in the fiery Chinese spirit baijiu, liquor, premier spirits, pineapples, bananas, and other prized items," the source elaborated. "People use holiday gift giving as an opportunity to surreptitiously present a bribe to an official. Not so long ago, cash and a gift of nutritious carp or cigarettes [for men] would have been an adequate bribe. Lately, the drug ice is also seen as an ideal gift. 

Ice is also referred to as bingdu in North Korea and is mass-produced in Hamheung, South Hamgyung Province by pharmaceutical companies like Nanam Pharmaceuticals. As of late, illegal transactions and distribution have spread to the point that even members of the SSD are known to sometimes partake in the consumption of the drug.

A gram of ice costs 100 RMB [approximately 130,000 North Korean Won]. Though the price is formidable, it is not prohibitively so for officials who use the drug. It is regarded as simply the cost of also maintaining influence and connections in the market. He went on to say, Because enforcement isnt very strict, officials can comfortably receive drugs as gifts. Generally, the amount of ice given depends on the status and rank of the person being gifted; higher-ranking officials receiving larger amounts of ice. If you just need something stamped, one gram of ice is sufficient. If you need to do business with an official, the usual method is to give a gram of ice along with a U.S. dollar. Whats more, even though the slaughter of cows is officially prohibited, beef is being given as a bribe; when delivering the meat for bribery purposes, they have to keep up a pretense about the cow having been sick.

In North Korea, people are forbidden to slaughter cows for their meat, as cows are extremely important and deemed a means of production. However dead cows can be utilized as provisions, usually for officials or soldiers. These days on Chuseok officials dont want the usual songpyeon [small rice cakes with various fillings), they want meat. There are some people who are willing to do whatever it takes to procure meat to sell. Really clever merchants time their endeavors to coincide with holidays like Chuseok. They go and offer bribes to managers in charge of meat to disguise fresh meat as being from a cow that has died of a disease. Then the merchants are able to purchase the beef, he concluded.

*Translated by D. Kim

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