[imText1] There are many “underground rich people” in North Korea. They are literally “under-ground rich people,” because they bury their money underground and use it quietly. They never act they have money.
In North Korea, the Security Department and the Safety Department send officials to investigate when someone seems to spend his money extravagantly. They interrogate him on how much his wage is, how much money he had before, and where the extra money came from. For this reason, unless one has an extensive connection, he must not spend much even if he had a fortune.
The underground rich people mostly have some of their family members in China or South Korea. Although most of the North Korean defectors live with fear of arrest, there are people North Koreans call “strong-minded,” who manage to earn money in spite of their condition and send money to their families in North Korea.
Many Successful Defectors in China
Lim Chun Hwa, a defector currently resides in Jilin, China, is from Kosan in Kangwon province. She defected eight years ago. All her family members hole some position in the military, and Lim was a Party member who worked as a typist at Escort Bureau. She legally retired due to her stomach ulcer. In an elite military family, she was the only one who could not make it to become military personnel. With despair, she went around the country selling edible oil frogs and when she visited China to buy some goods for her business, she decided to remain in China.
Fortunately, she met a wise and good-hearted Chinese-Korean who is now her husband with whom she was able to learn Chinese and start different businesses, where she could successfully selling fruits, meat, and munitions. Currently she attends computer institute taking classes on computer and internet. Her case is one of the rare successful cases. She also has a six-year-old son who is able to go to the kindergarten with the Chinese citizenship, which cost them a fortune.
Furthermore, she sends about 3,000-5,000 Yuan once or twice a year to her family in North Korea. At first her father who said, “I will not receive money from the daughter who betrayed the country” now changed attitude to say, “at least she has a smart head so she lives well.” She also said her father sent her a greeting to her last time through the person who delivered money to her father.
“With that much amount of money, (my family) must be the most rich people in Kosan, Kangwon province. I reminded of my parents to not act as though they have money, and only think about how they can eat well.”
“I sent more than $10,000 to North Korea”
Kim Mee Hee sends about 100-300 Yuan ($13-$40) to North Korea every month. With that money, her family started a seafood business and became “underground rich people.” Kim says every time she sends money to her family in North Korea she also sends a letter saying, “It is not much in China, but it is a lot of money in China. Please do not do anything “standing out.”
Kim Young Jun, who defected to South Korea in 2000 and currently lives in Buchun, Kyeong-gi province, says he sent more than $10,000 to his family in North Korea until now. Kim who crossed the Tuman river thinking “I will survive somehow in China to avoid dying here,” is now a supporting pillar of his family in North Korea. The following is the interview with him.
Why did you escape North Korea?
Originally we used to live in Pyungsung city in South Pyungan province, then one day we were expelled to North Hamkyung province without knowing the reason. At the time, my father told us, “It seems like one of our relatives who studied abroad in Russia was executed, in charge of being a reactionary element.” Because of a relative who we never even saw, we had to live the life of the low class.
After my father died of starvation during the food crisis, I tried to survive doing whatever I can, but there was no way out. I felt no matter what I do in North Korea, I will never will able to eat write rice and meat.
After contemplating, I could not tell my mother but told my sister, “There is nothing I can do here (North Korea). I will come back with money from China.” My sister cried and said, “I will take care of mother, please do not get arrested in China, and come back.” Later I heard that my mother and neighbors worried about me much that I might have starved to death somewhere.
How is your family doing in North Korea?
So far, everything worked out as I have planned. When I was living in North Korea, I envied the Japanese-Korean and the Chinese-Koreans the most. They had relatives who always sent them money, so they never had to work for living.
Ever since I arrived to South Korea, I lived so hard. I did not spend the resettlement money given by the government, and I worked and accumulated the savings. Until now I sent more than $10,000 to my family. That is a great fortune in North Korea. I talked with my sister on the phone last night, and she said they have become the number one “underground rich people” in Chungjin. Now my family is like the second Japanese-Korean and Chinese-Koreans.
Is it safe to have that much money?
Of course, you never act you have money. When I was in North Korea long time ago, we bought a black and white TV at my house. The people’s leader reported the security department about our TV and we were called on to the department several times. I remember that, so I told my sister to not buy anything that is not good. I always tell her to please eat well and stay healthy until the day of unification.
Does that mean the money has no other use?
There is no such thing as personal possession in North Korea. However, some people do make land, cars, and other goods their personal asset. There are more and more people who pay the legal institutions to register cars or houses under the name of the “state” and pay certain amount of tax every month to maintain their belongings and businesses.
Although apartments and Munhwa Houses are all state properties, people make secret deals and under the name “return” to the state, they change the name of the owner in the process. Currently in Chungjin, an apartment of 25pyong costs about $3000. The price increases depending how close or far the house is from the market or downtown city.
Does the government not know that the defectors are living in South Korea?
I heard that when people found out that I disappeared, the security department officials visited my house several times to investigate. During the 1998 Highest People’s Meeting General Members Election, the security department officials conducted a general investigation of the families, but since there were too many dead and disappeared people that they actually went out to investigate whether all those people were dead for real.
When there are more than three witnesses on the person claimed to be dead, then the person is labeled as dead on the document, but when there are not enough of witnesses, then the person is labeled as “lost.” According to a security department official whom my sister knows well, there are many people who have been lost in 1990s still not verified about their whereabouts. Without knowing whether they went to China or South Korea, or if they died, so the government does not know what to do with them.
Those who went to China are labeled as “fled to China” and those to South Korea as “fled to South Korea” on the documents. However, since there are so many who have fled to South Korea, it is hard for the government to punish all the people and their family members or send them to the detention camps. Since they will only increase the number of people against the government if they punish all those people, they have become rather loose about punishing people.
The government of North Korea legally defines those who transgress the national border to leave to China or South Korea as traitors or the nation. However in reality, they propagate that those people have “made a mistake of transgression due to their living hardships” who are “to be transformed and re-educated, to be used after the unification.”