The North Korean authorities recently arrested a married couple in Onsong County, North Hamgyong Province, after they attempted to smuggle over ten tons of metal abroad in violation of the country’s COVID-19 border blockade.

“A married couple living in Onsong County was arrested by Ministry of State Security officers after locals reported them to the police for trying to gather dozens of tons of various metals, including copper, to smuggle them abroad,” a source in North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on Apr. 14. “The husband got released, but he was stripped of his Party membership and lost his job. His wife is still being detained.”

According to the source, the couple was well-known in Onsong county for their wealth. However, the COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of the border caused them to fall into considerable debt and financial troubles. Eventually, the Ministry of State Security arrested them for audaciously planning to smuggle a large amount of metal out of the country.

The wife, surnamed Choi, was the manager of a famous restaurant, while the husband was a staff member of the local people’s committee. The couple used their connections and positions in Onsong to gather more than ten tons of copper and other metals. The metals mainly originated from South Hamgyong Province, where many metal smelting plants are located. The pair cleverly managed to transport the metal to the border by using vehicles that transport materials to and from factories.

Onsong County, North Hamgyong Province. / Image: Daily NK

However, locals found it suspicious that cars containing people speaking dialects from other provinces visited the couple so often during periods when movement was restricted due to COVID-19 restrictions. The pair was eventually reported to the Ministry of State Security and Ministry of Social Security, which took the husband-and-wife duo into custody.

“At first, the MSS officers only arrested Choi because they thought she had orchestrated the entire operation herself. However, after realizing that it wouldn’t make sense for the husband to not have known about or participated in this huge smuggling scheme, they arrested him as well,” the source said.

The Ministry of State Security released the husband after a month-long preliminary examination because he did not directly take part in the case. However, the authorities criticized him for failing to prevent his wife from engaging in illegal activities during the COVID-19 pandemic, when party members and their families needed to be taking their responsibilities even more seriously than usual. The man eventually lost his party membership as well as his job. 

In the meantime, it appears that the wife will face serious punishment for attempting to smuggle the country’s “precious metal resources” to foreign countries and disobeying the party’s anti-COVID-19 measures.

*Translated by S & J

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Kim Yoo Jin is one of Daily NK's freelance journalists. Please direct any questions about his articles to