Changchun, China — The chairman of North Korea’s State Development Bank, Jeon Il Chun visited China on April 8, reportedly to try and bring Chinese investment to Daebong Mine, located near Hyesan, Yangkang Province.
Daebong Mine is one of North Korea’s major gold mines, managed under the auspices of the No. 39 Department of the Central Committee, a special department charged with raising funds for Kim Jong Il’s personal use. Jeon Il Chun is the person in charge of the No. 39 Department.
Attempts to sell shares in a gold mine directly controlled by the 39 Department, Kim Jong Il’s own private safe, to China seem to indirectly imply that Kim is suffering from a debilitating foreign currency supply crisis.
One Daily NK source in China who is well-acquainted with North Korean affairs reported that while Jeon was in China, he met with the management of three or four Chinese enterprises which already have investments in North Korea, and suggested investment conditions under which the North could transfer some of its mineral rights to them and receive capital investments in return.
The source said, “For now, as far as I know, executive managers of the No. 39 Department have been in contact with Chinese enterprises. Since the Workers’ Party is trying to sell shares in a gold mine, it seems the funding of the Party might be serious.”
“It is not clear whether or not this attempt was done on Kim Jong Il’s instructions, but attracting foreign investment in a gold mine is not a commonplace affair,” the source pointed out, adding that an investor has not yet been put in place.
What is the Daebong Mine for?
The Daebong Mine is a relatively large gold mine on the border of Woonheung and Gapsan in Yangkang Province. Until 2001, a Yangkang provincial foreign currency earning enterprise and the foreign currency earning department of the People’s Safety Agency jointly managed it. However, in May, 2002, it became a No. 39 Department affiliated enterprise.
The No. 39 Department has been raising private funds for the leader and Party operations under the Finance and Accounting Department of the Central Committee since the mid-1970s. According to defectors, it has the highest authority and the largest funds of all North Korea’s foreign currency earning enterprises. Especially, it has the ability to mobilize tremendous financial resources since it manages and controls supplies of gold and silver and rare non-ferrous metals.
A source from Yangkang Province explained, “According to Chongjin University of Mining and Metals and Kim Chaek University of Technology, the purity of the gold from the Daebong Mine is more than 76 percent, while production from Hoichang and Eunsan in South Pyongang Province is 63 percent and 61 percent respectively. More than 150kg of solid gold is produced annually, so this mine is known as the ‘loyalty mine’.”
“People say that the government earns four or five million dollars a year through this mine. Neither Yangkang Provincial Committee nor Hyesan Municipal Committee is involved with the business of the mine.”
The source added, “Since the No. 39 Department deals with the mine, only those discharged soldiers with good family backgrounds are dispatched there by the Central Committee. In October of last year, around 200 discharged soldiers with good family backgrounds came to the mine.”
Almost all the gold produced in the Daebong Mine is stored in Swiss and Austrian banks in gold bars.