Members of elite Pyongyang military unit caught up in gambling scandal

North Korean soldiers gather in Kim Il Sung square in 2016 to celebrate Party Foundation Day
North Korean soldiers gather in Kim Il Sung square in 2016 to celebrate Party Foundation Day. Image: Daily NK file photo

Officers from a battalion-level unit within the Ministry for Internal Affairs (MIA)’s 8th General Bureau, which is under the Ministry of People’s Security (MPS), have been punished for gambling.

“Officers from the 2nd Battalion of the 8th General Bureau, including a political officer, were caught gambling with US dollars. They were reported to the leadership and the officers were punished,” a source in Pyongyang told Daily NK.

The officers were allegedly gambling with cards on a monthly basis starting in April this year, and were placed under surveillance from June. In July, the officers were interrogated as part of an investigation into their activities. They were sent to a “refinement” camp for soldiers for a period of three to six months, but did not face criminal charges, according to the source.

The MIA’s 8th General Bureau is tasked with managing Pyongyang’s major construction projects, including apartments in the city. The bureau is similar in size to several South Korean military divisions. It is also renowned for its considerable engineering capabilities given its management over major infrastructure and apartment construction projects in North Korea’s capital city.

“The officers caught up in the recent scandal were the children of Central Party cadres or wealthy individuals, so they were in choice positions within the military,” said the source. “They regularly met to gamble before getting into trouble.”

Despite being warned about their activities, they continued to gamble and were eventually hauled in for questioning.

While seven officers were interrogated at first, the political officer in the 2nd Battalion was released due to pressure from his father, who is the chief of staff of the MIA. The remaining six officers were punished.

During their interrogation, the officers maintained that they had been “called” to the meetings in which the gambling took place and that the political officer was the one who managed the meetings and provided the money used.

After being sent to a re-education camp as punishment, the officers submitted a petition outlining what they said had happened, along with a “reflection” on the wrongs they had committed to the Central Party. The Central Party sentenced the political officer to six months in a refinement camp.

The chief of staff of the MIA was also ordered to “self-reflect” on the pressure he had placed on investigators to ensure his son wouldn’t be punished, according to a separate source in Pyongyang.

“The military is conducting an investigation into military discipline in the battalions attached to the 8th General Bureau following the scandal and petition,” said the source. “There are a lot of soldiers who gamble with cards to kill time, but only a few of them will have much foreign currency on hand.”

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