Three North Koreans working as brokers for defectors were arrested on charges of human trafficking by North Korean officials in the Sino-North Korean border area in March. However, all three were reportedly released after providing large sums of money for state construction projects, North Korean sources told Daily NK.
The brokers were paid by three potential defectors earlier this year and were preparing for the defections together with Chinese brokers when their activities were reported to the Ministry of State Security (MSS). They were interrogated by the MSS for around two months, but then released in mid-May after promising to provide funds for state construction projects. The turn of events are unusual, even by North Korean standards.
“The brokers had completed the preparations necessary for the three North Koreans to defect, but one informed a friend that he was ‘crossing the river into China’ and that person alerted the authorities, who then then made the arrests,” a source in Ryanggang Province told Daily NK.
The next day, the MSS forced the three North Koreans to meet with their brokers. The brokers were then arrested on the spot.
The North Koreans who attempted to defect stuck to the story that they had planned to make money in China before returning home, and were ultimately sentenced to six months in a forced labor camp. The brokers who helped them were due to be charged with human trafficking, but ended up being released after promising to fund state construction projects.
In theory, the North Korean authorities are required to eliminate defections across the border into China, but the case involving the brokers shows the reality on the ground. Officials appear to be more concerned with acquiring money for state construction projects than upholding the law.
One of the brokers, a woman, faced trial because she was unable to come up with the funds; however, her family provided 10,000 Chinese yuan to the MSS which secured her release from custody.
“The recent release of the brokers is not widely known among the general public, but has huge implications for those who mediate financial transactions and defections in the border region,” a separate source in Ryanggang Province reported.
“The state is having difficulty coming up with funds for construction projects, so government officials are allowing brokers to pay their way out of jail.”