Loan-sharking of both money and food is back to being widespread in North Korea these days, and sources say this is causing problems.
The activity is said to have waned for a time in the face of strict crackdowns during the currency redenomination in 2009; however, according to sources, a lot of those people who were expropriated by the currency redenomination have now started borrowing money from loan sharks in order to begin trading or get access to food, meaning it has spread widely once again.
A source from Hyesan, Yangkang Province explained on the 13th, “Those without funding for trade tend to borrow money at high interest. If they borrow money from an acquaintance, the interest rate is five percent, or they make an agreement with a loan-shark, who they don’t know well, to give ten percent.”
“Some loan-sharks get from 15 to 20 percent interest from smugglers for loans over a single night! Even though it is risky, depending on the regulations, they lend money to smugglers because they can earn large sums of money in just a few days.”
Loan sharks have been the target of crackdowns for years. In August 1997, the Ministry of Public Security (formerly the People’s Safety Ministry) released a decree stating that authorities could go so far as to execute those caught loaning food at high interest rates. Additionally, right before the currency redenomination in September of 2009, the National Security Agency cracked down on loan-sharking, releasing a decree calling on officials to “Map out measures to uproot usury.”
However, given that even agents of the People Safety Ministry use loan-sharking for the trading activities of their families, the crackdowns are doomed to fail.
According to sources from several provinces, the activity is also more common in rural areas than in cities, because in cities people have more survival mechanisms, but rural people do not have many alternative ways to get hold of money or food.
Loans are used in these agricultural areas in order to borrow grain from March to May, and are paid back double in the harvest season. In Yangkang Province, meanwhile, when people borrow one kilogram of rice or flour, they must pay it back in the form of 2.5 or 3 kg of potato starch, since the major product of the province is potatoes.
It is the kind of interest rate that was applied during the March of Tribulation, but people still apply it now.
This is a vicious circle of poverty, another defector pointed out. “Those who suffer loan-sharking each year face another worrying fall because their harvest must be paid to the loan sharks.”