A Ministry of Social Security officer working at Hyesan Station, in Yanggang Province, was recently sent to a political prison camp for colluding with a remittance “broker.” As it is very rare for Ministry of Social Security agents to be arrested and punished by the Ministry of State Security, the incident has become a major talking point in North Korea.
A source in Yanggang Province told Daily NK on Thursday that the Ministry of Social Security officer — a man in his 40s identified by his surname of Choe — was put under emergency arrest by agents from the provincial branch of the Ministry of State Security in mid-June. After being questioned for over two months, he was finally sent to a political prison camp on Sept. 4.
A Ministry of Social Security agent at Hyesan Station and secretary of a local party cell, Choe received an offer from a Hyesan woman in her 40s identified by her family name of Han in March. In return for bringing some people from the interior to Hyesan, Choe would receive RMB 2,000 a head.
Having a tough time making ends meet with the border sealed and local movement restricted due to COVID-19, Choe took up Han on her offer. Until the time he was arrested, Choe transported locals from South Pyongan Province, South Hamgyong Province, and Chagang Province to Hyesan.
In particular, Choe made sure the family members of defectors living in South Korea or China arrived safely at the border city of Hyesan. Han played the role of intermediary, contacting defectors and transferring remitted money to their families.
In fact, Choe could bring families of defectors from the interior without papers by using his connections with station and train crews, inspectors and announcers.
“Their pockets hurting due to economic difficulties from the infectious disease [COVID-19], crews and inspectors didn’t turn down Choe’s money and accepted his requests,” said the source. “Because they looked the other way, the relatives of illegal border hoppers or fugitives to South Korea could safely come to Hyesan.”
Choe took money to take care of the conveniences of relatives of defectors, individuals North Korea designates as traitors. Publicly, however, he was a well-regarded public servant who even participated in a congress of party cell secretaries in Pyongyang in April.
In June, Han was arrested by agents of the provincial branch of the Ministry of State Security for using an illegal foreign-made mobile phone and aiding defections. Choe, too, was arrested. During its investigation, the Ministry of State Security discovered Choe’s long-time side gig transporting the families of defectors to Hyesan.
“Given that this was a Ministry of Social Security officer who should take the lead in combating non-socialist and anti-socialist behavior and a party cell secretary who aided in the crime, he inevitably got sent to a political prison,” said the source. “His family, too, was exiled to the boonies as punishment for guilt by association, having failed to turn in Choe despite knowing of his crimes.
“Recently, the security authorities are upping their struggle against non-socialist and anti-socialist behavior,” he continued, adding, “In particular, they clearly intend to be completely unforgiving with crimes connected to using Chinese-made mobile phones.”