Signs continue to emerge of corruption on the part of commanders in North Korea’s General Staff Department, which has overall command of the country’s armed forces. This corruption has occurred despite North Korea testing hypersonic weapons from the start of the year and the nation showing every indication that it intends to bolster national defense in 2022.

A source in North Pyongan Province told Daily NK on Monday that a colonel in the General Staff Department’s Oil Transport Bureau — identified by his family name of Choe — was arrested by an inspection team from the department’s Operations Bureau earlier this month on charges of pilfering 200 tons of oil intended for training. He said the authorities are taking a grim view of the case given that he allegedly pilfered so much oil, a strategic military resource.

Oil is a must-have resource for North Korea’s defense sector. Oil guarantees that the country’s tools of warfare quickly move into action.

That is to say, North Korea’s tanks, armored vehicles, artillery and warships are completely useless without oil.

Gas stations on the outskirts of Pyongyang
A gas station on the outskirts of Pyongyang. / Image: Daily NK

Without oil, unit operations would come to a halt, too. This is because supplies must be shipped to each unit; without oil, however, this becomes difficult.

Each mechanized unit in North Korea is supplied by a team of three 20-ton tanker trucks, commanded by an officer ranked colonel or above.

These teams often carry out their duties over many years, an indication of the importance in which they are held. However, this also makes corruption hard to spot.

According to the source, the investigation revealed that Choe siphoned off 200 total tons of oil by stealing it little by little as he carried out his duties over the years. 

Choe displayed a bit of sophistication as well, selling his ill-begotten oil at lower-than-market prices. For example, if gasoline and diesel normally sold for RMB 10 and RMB 7 a kilogram, respectively, Choe sold it for RMB 5 and RMB 4.

Choi will likely be unable to escape severe punishment for his misdeeds, the source said, adding that people are watching to see if investigations on corruption will accelerate.

According to him, every time the General Staff Department’s tankers move from military oil storage facilities in Chonju County and Sonchon County, North Pyongan Province, crowds of merchants always gather, in a clear show of how the military’s oil ends up in markets.

However, the source pointed out that officers doing the heavy lifting are colluding with commanders in the highest ranks, so they are rarely caught and hard to punish.

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