As details of Kim Jong Nam’s murder came to light, almost universal criticisms of the North Korean regime emerged from the international community. However, North Korea has a long track record of illegal activity abroad, from abductions to acts of terrorism in Southeast Asia, including in Malaysia, Hong Kong, Myanmar, Macau and the Philippines.
Numerous South Korean citizens have been among the victims. The disappearance of the couple Choi Eun Hee and Shin Sang Ok in Hong Kong in the late 1970s was orchestrated by North Korean agents, and the bombing of the Aung San National Cemetery in Myanmar, which killed dozens in the early 1980s, was also conducted by North Korea.
In addition, the country has been running weapons trafficking, and illegal drug production and distribution networks in Southeast Asia.
North Korea seems to prefer the Southeast Asia region because dozens of countries are within close proximity, and there is easy transit to Europe and Africa. For this reason, the North has found it easier to circulate money and avoid surveillance from the international community.
It is relatively unusual that there are more than 1,000 North Koreans living in Malaysia alone, as North Korea is notorious for preventing its citizens from traveling abroad. With the exception of the labor force hired through construction contracts by the Malaysian government and private companies, a significant number of individuals are likely to be agents dispatched for certain political objectives.
A person named So In Guk (ranked captain) was allegedly dispatched to Malaysia until a few years ago to manage an illegal drug production site, and now works at the Musan Regional Ministry of People’s Security (police) in North Hamgyong Province. During his time in Malaysia, he was in his 30s and was working for the External Liaison Department.
So used to work in a drug production unit consisting of three agents in Malaysia, but hastily returned to North Korea via sea after he was caught attempting to transfer his monthly quota of 10 kg of ‘ice’ (methamphetamine) to an embedded distribution team in Burma. He now works as a Ministry of People’s Security official in North Korea following his exposure.
The four agents who are accused of the murder of Kim Jong Nam (Ri Ji Hyon (33), Hong Song Hak (34), O Jong Gil (55), and Ri Jae Nam (57)) are also likely to be facing the same fate rather than receiving honors as “Heroes of the Republic.” Even so-called heroic figures who conduct special operations in abroad, are, in many cases, banned from ever leaving the country and are confined to domestic organizations upon their exposure.
So has been an object of special attention from residents of Musan County, not because of his special training but because of his proficiency in conducting illegal activities. There are rumors among the residents in Musan County, which is reportedly a final destination for drug smuggling, that even low-quality drug substances are transformed into products of the highest quality through his hands.
As such, illegal activities conducted by the North in foreign countries will result in the spread of such expertise within North Korea into the future. It is highly likely that the four agents, who were exposed after killing Kim Jong Nam, will also use their know-how to earn a living for themselves back home.