North Korea sentences female drug boss to life in prison

Woman sentenced to life in prison while subordinates receive 10-15 years

Crystal meth / Image: Radspunk, Wikimedia Commons

The female leader of a drug smuggling ring and four of her subordinates were recently sentenced to harsh prison time as part of the country’s broader crackdown on illicit drugs, Daily NK has learned. 

Local police seized 500 grams of bingdu (methamphetamine) at the woman’s house in Songbong District, a source based in Ryanggang Province told Daily NK on Oct. 29. The word bingdu is based on the Chinese pronunciation of the word for “ice.”

The woman, who is in her 40s, and her male and female subordinates were sentenced in early October. She received a life sentence in a correctional facility while her four subordinates were sentenced to 10-15 years.


The smugglers were caught in the Sino-North Korean border area in June while attempting to transport drugs to China. Police conducted a preliminary examination on the suspects for around four months before they were put on trial and sentenced, Daily NK sources said. 

In North Korea, preliminary examinations include the entire interrogation process prior to suspects being indicted. Human rights advocates charge that preliminary examinations generally involve the police forcibly extracting confessions from suspects. 

“The woman had already been under surveillance by the Ministry of State Security and local law enforcement for her drug dealings,” one of the sources said. “She had evaded arrest by bribing her way out of drug busts in the past. This time, bribes weren’t enough to save her.” 

Drug dealers arrested by the authorities have to pay more than USD 3,000 in bribes to escape punishment, Daily NK sources said. 

During the course of their investigation, police also identified and arrested drug buyers who made frequent visits to the woman’s house. The majority of the drug buyers were released from custody after paying a bribe while claiming they had purchased the drugs for medical purposes, one of the sources added. 


According to the 2018 North Korean Human Rights White Paper published by the Korean Institute for National Unification (KINU), North Koreans are using illicit drugs, including bingdu, as “cure-all-drugs.”

KINU’s report also states that the use of illicit drugs for medical ailments based on false information appears to be causing significant health problems among North Koreans. The report adds that North Korean authorities are doing too little to combat the public health threat caused by illicit drug use.

That being said, North Korea appears to be making some attempts to stamp out drug use among its population and has at times taken extreme measures to penalize drug distributors, such as execution by firing squad. These efforts have been only partially effective, however, because many high-ranking party officials and donju (the country’s entrepreneurial class) are regular drug users.

Daily NK sources have even reported that government officials and members of the donju are major producers of illicit drugs themselves.

Bingdu is divided into “first-class” and “second-class” according to its purity, scent and taste. One gram of second-class bingdu costs USD 2.50 while first-class ice sells for USD 6.30. The drug is cheaper to buy in North Korea than in other neighboring countries and this is one factor in the widespread use of the drug among North Koreans, sources said. 

*Translated by Violet Kim

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Kim Yoo Jin is one of Daily NK's freelance journalists. Please direct any questions about his articles to