North Korean authorities are increasingly conducting raids on businesses run by donju as part of efforts to strengthen state control over the economy and acquire more foreign currency, Daily NK sources in South Pyongan Province reported on Apr. 1.

Raid teams, called “anti-socialist groups,” are cracking down on individual merchants or businesses that are suspected of failing to operate as registered or failing to pay taxes on their profits. The authorities are confiscating assets and even property when the rules are discovered to have been broken.

In late February, for example, a team raided a restaurant in Kaechon owned by a woman in her 40s, leading to the confiscation of her food products. She was accused by the authorities of acquiring profits that were based on her own interests, rather than state interests. 

The restaurant owner reportedly protested against the confiscation of her restaurant by the authorities and was deemed a political criminal. 

“She angrily told officials that she didn’t want to live in North Korea anymore after they said her property would be confiscated,” a source told Daily NK. “Security officials were called to detain her and she was arrested as a political criminal. Her entire family disappeared.” 

The raid teams are reportedly focusing on narrowing the gap between the rich and poor in the country, which explains why the groups are targeting restaurants and stores run by business people and donju, North Korea’s wealthy entrepreneurial class.  

Some experts Daily NK spoke to suggested that the regime’s efforts to crackdown on businesses are part of a broader strategy to collect foreign currency following the economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

North Korean authorities likely want to use the donju as scapegoats to “bring all economic activity under the purview of the state and raise taxes,” a defector familiar with economic issues in the country told Daily NK.

Some donju have reportedly discussed the possibility of halting business operations for the time being because of fears that they could be accused of being “anti-socialist.” 

Rodong Sinmun ran an article on Apr. 1 that criticized those in the country that “ignored national demands and interests” while pursuing their “own interests,” calling such actions an “unacceptable state of affairs.”

*Translated by Yejoo Moon

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