The Ministry of State Security has reportedly arrested a trade official who “audaciously” defied an order by North Korean authorities to earn foreign currency for the regime by any means necessary.

A source in Pyongyang told Daily NK on Wednesday that after the suspension of official trade this year due to the “infectious disease” (COVID-19), authorities ordered trade officials to “acquire foreign currency, even domestically.” However, one “trade bureau official” was recently arrested by the Ministry of State Security when he failed to meet the quota he was assigned. 

According to the source, North Korean authorities had dispatched trade bureau officials to the provinces after ordering them to use all means and methods to secure foreign currency. In early December, the authorities subjected the officials to a year-end review on how well they performed that task. That is, they saw the mission as part of the so-called “80-day battle” ahead of the Eighth Party Congress, which is scheduled to take place in early January. 

“This year, trade bureau officials came to the plains and fishing bases of Hwanghae Province and worked hard to carry out their task,” said the source. “However, during the review, one official came under scrutiny when, instead of showing remorse, he seemed uncaring of his failure to meet the foreign currency quota.”

The source said other trade bureau officials faced the same difficult circumstances, but they nonetheless went to the provinces and obtained even just small amounts of foreign currency. They strived to carry out the task given to them by authorities, even if it meant using their own money. This official, however, voiced indignation at having to meet the foreign currency quota. 

According to the source, he went to the provinces but did nothing, returning empty-handed after staying at a relative’s home. All the while, he complained, “How are we supposed to earn foreign currency domestically?” and “What kind of means do we have?” The authorities were not amused, however, and he was dragged off by the Ministry of State Security.

Pyongyang Railway Station / Image: Daily NK

“There was a rumor that the official, who lives in Moranbong District, was living well, and that his siblings and relatives in the provinces were also living well, having all found work in places that earn foreign currency with his help,” said the source. “Ultimately, the official was dragged off by the Ministry of State Security for having openly refused to implement Party policy, a serious offense.”

He added that the trade bureau party committee has made the man’s case a “political matter,” believing that the official not only failed to carry out state policy, but also pursued his own interests “with no concern for the desperate circumstances of the state.” Ultimately, the case instilled “fear and pressure” on other trade bureau officials, showing them “what happens when you don’t carry out state plans,” the source added. 

North Korean authorities later carried out a search of the official’s home in Moranbong District and have reportedly launched investigations of his family and relatives as well.

A decision has yet to be reached on how the official and his family will be punished, but according to the source, locals are saying they will likely be exiled. He added that there is speculation that the wrath of the authorities might also be directed at his relatives in the provinces.

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Jong So Yong is one of Daily NK's freelance reporters. Questions about her articles can be directed to