North Korean authorities recently punished a gang that was caught pilfering scrap metal from a munitions factory. The crew — employees at the factory — allegedly committed their crimes because even munitions plants are failing to provide proper rations to their workers.

According to a Daily NK source in North Pyongan Province on Tuesday, several employees of Factory No. 76 in Panmak-ri, Sakju County were recently caught storing scrap metal produced during the munitions manufacturing process at their homes.

Since Factory No. 76 makes ammunition for automatic rifles, anti-aircraft guns and other weapons, it reportedly produces a lot of scrap metal.

However, because munitions factories have tougher surveillance and inspections during the production process, it is not easy for individual workers to pilfer scrap metal willy nilly.

Because of this, officials were mortified when they heard what happened, wondering how the culprits could have committed such a bold crime.

An investigation revealed that security cadres took part in the crime, including a member of a Ministry of Social Security team.

This means that agents of the Ministry of Social Security, who were supposed to keep an eye out for corruption at the munitions factory, colluded with employees to pilfer scrap metal, making ill-begotten gains in the process.

This nearly perfect caper was discovered thanks to a tip to Unified Command 82, the unit tasked with ending “anti-socialist and non-socialist behavior.”

Chongjin Munitions Factory (No. 129)
Chongjin Munitions Factory (No. 129). / Image: Google Earth

According to the source, after receiving the tip, agents from the unified command raided the suspects’ homes, finding over a ton of scrap metal per person.

The individuals had merely stored the scrap metal; they had yet to monetize it. They were going to sell their scrap metal to China, but with the border remaining shut due to COVID-19, they could not smuggle it across the river.

Meanwhile, of the total 11 people implicated in the case – including munitions factory employees and Ministry of Social Security agents – most were sent to forced labor camps for organized theft of state property. However, some were simply sacked or sentenced to lighter labor because they were merely complicit in the crime.

The source said the employees engaged in organized pilfering of scrap metal because the factory had not provided proper rations for months.

In fact, because North Korean authorities prioritize provisions to munitions factories, they are among the organizations in the country that still receive regular rations. However, with economic difficulties worsening, relatively small munitions factories have ceased providing rations, or provide them so irregularly that workers cannot survive on them.

This is to say, at some munitions factories, workers cannot make ends meet if they do not make money on the side.

The source said that in the past, such corruption at a munitions factory would have been unthinkable, but with nothing to eat, people are growing bolder.

Nonetheless, the culprits got off with just forced labor because they pilfered scrap metal, the source said, adding that if they had stolen even a single bullet, they would have likely been executed.

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Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to