An elderly North Korean man living in Ryanggang Province was recently arrested and then released after paying a bribe to a local law enforcement official, Daily NK has learned.

“The elderly man was walking quickly to catch a bus (써비차) after receiving money from a remittance broker who lives in Hyesan’s Yonbong District,” a Ryanggang Province-based source told Daily NK on May 14. “He was then stopped and grilled by a local police official.”

The elderly was unable to answer the officer’s questions about why he was leaving the house of a known remittance broker. The officer loudly asked the man to open his bag and the man retorted, “What right do you have to search me?”

The officer changed tack – perhaps conscious of the crowd of people around them – and asked the man where he lived and for his identification card. With this, the officer was able to discover that the elderly man was not a resident of Hyesan and that he was in violation of restrictions on travel due to COVID-19. The man ended up being taken to the local police station.

“People who witnessed the incident felt sorry for the elderly man because everyone knows that local law enforcement monitors people suspected of being involved in remittances,” the source told Daily NK.

At the police station, the man reportedly confessed to having received money from a member of his family who had defected. The officer told the man that he would need to forfeit some of the money as a “penalty.”

The elderly man was let off after paying the bribe, a demand made all too commonly by local law enforcement officials, the source said.

There have long been reports of North Korean law enforcement officials taking bribes in exchange for turning a blind eye to remittances from defectors. The source told Daily NK that such corruption seems to be increasing slightly due to economic difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Even veteran business people are having so much trouble running their businesses that they are having to ask relatives in South Korea for help, so I expect those involved in law enforcement face similar [financial] difficulties,” the source said.

“[Officials] will continue to steal small amounts of money from ordinary people, but not enough to cause any real problems,” he added.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article mentioned the man was waiting for a “taxi,” when instead he was waiting for a “bus” (써비차). The article has been changed to reflect this.

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Kang Mi Jin
Kang Mi Jin is a North Korean defector turned journalist who fled North Korea in 2009. She has a degree in economics and writes largely on marketization and economy-related issues for Daily NK. Questions about her articles can be directed to