Beef, Drugs Popular Chuseok Gifts for Officials

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 person’s rank was the
indicator of his influence and power; now, it’s the era of money in North

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 Korea’s 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 isn’t 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. What’s 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 don’t 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.

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