A North Korean trading company that smuggled South Korean masks through a customs office in Sinuiju in early February is still smuggling in face masks and even electronics into the country, Daily NK has learned.
“On Mar. 6 the Kimbongsokyong Trading Company smuggled in masks and Japanese-made electronic appliances through a Hyesan customs office (Ryanggang Province),” a Daily NK source said on Friday. “The items came in through 20-ton containers, and they were sterilized immediately. Then they were sent to Pyongyang.”
According to sources, the Kimbongsokyong Trading Company was assisted by officials at the Hyesan customs office.
“After the coronavirus crisis began, officials started importing masks along with protective suits from China – all through this company,” another source told Daily NK.
According to sources, the Kimbongsokyong Trading Company also coordinated the illicit import of Japanese-made air conditioners, washing machines, and drinks refrigerators, among other expensive electric appliances, as well as custom-made large-screen monitors.
Daily NK reported last month through sources in North Pyongan Province that the Kimbongsokyong Trading Company – a state-run entity affiliated with the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces (MPAF) – had smuggled South Korean masks through a customs office in Sinuiju.
UPGRADING ELITE VACATION HOUSES
March is conventionally when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s vacation residence and other lodgings for officials receive a “seasonal upgrade.” According to Daily NK sources, these illicit imports seem directly related to this upgrade.
“The principle behind these seasonal upgrades is that all vacation residences and lodgings for the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) elite receive new items, regardless of whether the items have been used or not,” one source said. “The fact that the appliances are from Japan rather than China or even South Korea means they will probably be used to furnish the residences and lodgings of the elite.”
The trading company has also been involved in the import of flour, high-priced alcohol, and Chinese rice, although “none of these things are for ordinary North Koreans, just the top one percent,” the source added.
A TRADING COMPANY BACKED BY KIM YO JONG
The Kimbongsokyong Trading Company is still involved in smuggling minerals from North Korea to China and importing supplies for the country’s military despite the closure of the Sino-North Korean border, Daily NK sources said.
The trading company transports quartz, magnesia clinker and other rare minerals from mines to Kimjongsuk County and Kimghyongjik County in Ryanggang Province, which rests on the Sino-North Korean border. Company agents then smuggle the goods to China via the Yalu River. All of these logistics are carried out at night and on boats that take off from the riverbanks facing Changbai in China.
The trading company is smuggling its goods across the river at night because of intense scrutiny by the international community on mineral exports from the ports of Nampho, Rajin and Hungnam, Daily NK sources speculated.
The trading company is also suspected of receiving cash payments (USD and CNY) during these illegal trades with China, rather than through an electronic financial transaction system linked to a bank.
Chinese traders are reportedly aware that the trading company is selling minerals into China for foreign currency. While many Chinese traders are unaware of the company’s specific name, they reportedly understand that the trading company is working under the direction of Kim Yo Jong, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister and vice department director of the WPK’s Propaganda and Agitation Department.
“There are a lot of people here who are asking about this company, hoping to do business with them,” a Chinese trader told Daily NK. “They’re attracted to the company because it’s backed by Kim, which means stable business. I’ve heard rumors that [Chinese traders] have never had to stop trade with the company [despite the border closure].”
*Translated by Violet Kim
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