It has been reported that a North Korean head of a fisheries department was recently arrested by Chinese public security officers for smuggling, and was repatriated in mid-June.
On June 19, “Chinese Coast Guard Unit 110” was dispatched to Anmin Port in China’s Liaoning Province. The officers uncovered an antique smuggling operation conducted by a North Korean man named as Kim Kwang Won and two other North Koreans, and launched an arrest operation.
“[Kim Kwang Won] contacted numerous Chinese traders to sell the antiques at hefty prices, and was exposed during the process. An unnamed source reported him to public security officers,” a source familiar with North Korean affairs in China told Daily NK on July 26.
Kim Kwang Won and his co-accused were interrogated at Anmin police station for three days, before being transported to Sinuiju’s Ministry of State Security where they received a preliminary hearing. Those who are arrested for smuggling are repatriated and generally receive similar punishment to that imposed on defectors, but the level of punishment for those deemed to be ‘economic violators’ is lower.
“Kim Kwang Won is said to have been released four or five days ago. He received an early release because he had connections with the Ministry of State Security [MSS],” the source said.
According to a separate source in China close to the matter, Kim built a small port in an estuary on the Yalu river four or five years ago with money he earned through smuggling, and oversaw the area.
Since then, Kim seems to have been systematically bribing the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces, the General Bureau of Reconnaissance, and the People’s Safety Agency, in return for holding his post as the head of a fisheries office. It is not uncommon for the head of fisheries departments in North Korea to receive approval for fishing together with an implicit allowance to engage in smuggling if they contribute foreign currency or commodities to the various government organizations.
The fact that Kim’s group attempted to sell antiques in China despite strengthening crackdowns on smuggling by the Chinese government shows that they were desperate to earn foreign currency, likely demanded by the North Korean authorities.
The North Korean fisheries departments have been earning foreign currency by smuggling fisheries products using Chinese fishing boats, but due to China’s strengthened crackdowns on smuggling, it has become very difficult. This is presumably why Kim’s group elected to risk smuggling within Chinese territory.
In addition, Kim appears to have been directly engaged in the smuggling himself even while in charge of the office. Multiple sources have reported that Dandong city has seen a rise in the number of public security officers and border guards dispatched for crackdown operations on smuggling activities.
Both sources reported that recently, with strengthening crackdowns in the estuaries of the Chinese side of Yalu river, only small smuggling ships can be seen from time to time. If they are caught, they are fined 20,000 RMB (approx US$3,300).
As relations between China and North Korea worsen, the North Korean authorities have also increased crackdowns on North Korean fishing boats in estuaries on the North Korean side of the Yalu river. “Since May, North Korea has also increased crackdowns on fish smuggling which has been a serious blow to the residents’ livelihoods. North Korean fishing boats are receiving pressure from both sides due to tense bilateral relations,” a source in North Pyongan Province said.