special patrols coronavirus outbreak smuggler mobile phones strict smuggler border
FILE PHOTO: A border patrol checkpoint in Pungso County, Yanggang Province, can be seen in this photo, which was taken in February 2019. (Daily NK)

The Yanggang Province branch of the Ministry of State Security recently arrested several members of North Korea’s wealthy entrepreneurial class, or donju, for smuggling gold bars into China. 

According to a Daily NK source in Yanggang Province on Friday, the provincial Ministry of State Security arrested a woman in her 40s in Hyesan in mid-June.

The woman used to smuggle precious metals in the past, but unable to continue in that line of work with the closure of the border due to COVID-19, she began a new career facilitating the transfer of money from defectors in South Korea and China to relatives in North Korea. The authorities later caught on to what she was doing, which led to her arrest.  

After the authorities discovered a large amount of foreign currency and Chinese-made mobile phones in her home, security officials carried out an investigation of sources and recipients of the overseas remittances she facilitated, as well as the pathways the money took.

During her interrogation, the woman confessed that she and three other people pooled money to buy a large number of gold bars produced at Taebong Gold Mine, Huchang Gold Mine and other gold mining regions. Then, she claimed, they smuggled the gold bars to China on several occasions despite the border still be closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Based on this testimony, provincial security authorities investigated her three accomplices and set about to arrest them. They have arrested two of them, but they have been unable to find the final accomplice. 

“It’s likely that the one who disappeared is protected by a high-ranking Ministry of State Security cadre,” said the source, suggesting that the the individual had been tipped off about the investigation.

The provincial Ministry of State Security is now rushing to investigate officials with the province’s security services, border patrol and disease control agencies who may have been implicated in the smuggling.

The source said the authorities are conducting particularly intense investigations of personnel at a Ministry of State Security “No. 10 checkpoint” and a driver with the ministry’s municipal branch who allegedly helped transport the gold bars. They are also investigating an officer with the border patrol who allegedly handed the bars over to Chinese smugglers. 

The provincial Ministry of State Security is carrying out its investigation quietly and thoroughly. However, the matter is likely to grow into a major case if the local authorities report it to Pyongyang.

“The Ministry of State Security is working hard to arrest the person who fled. Branches of the Ministry of State Security and Ministry of Social Security in border regions such as Kimjongsuk County, Pochon County and Taehongdan County are in crisis mode, issuing wanted notices and carrying out searches of people’s homes,” the source said. 

The source further reported that in a region like Yanggang Province, where “there is nothing but mountains,” putting food on the table is no easy matter in the absence of state rations.

“Because donju at least injected money into the market, ordinary people were able to survive during the border lockdown. If you arrest all these people, ordinary folk will have no practical recourse [to survive],” he said.

Translated by David Black. Edited by Robert Lauler.

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Kim Chae Hwan is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. He can be contacted at dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.