The head of the Kumgang Trading Company’s Onsong County office was arrested in early June for engaging in smuggling activities along the North Korea-China border. The company is affiliated with the Ministry of Social Security. 

The man has been accused of “ignoring state quarantine policies and engaging in smuggling at the border with cooperation from state agencies,” a North Hamgyong Province-based source told Daily NK yesterday, on condition of anonymity. 

According to the source, the man secretly received help from various state agencies to engage in smuggling at the border in Onsong County, even though North Korean authorities have announced that any smuggling along the border will be treated as “treasonous behavior.” His suspected smuggling activities were reported to the authorities by locals in Onsong County. 

During the nighttime hours of Jun. 1, the man allegedly took four boats into the Onsong County stretch of the Tumen River to smuggle in medicine and 500 kilograms of rice from China. 

The man gave the headquarters of the military unit guarding that stretch of the border a “trade transaction certificate” with the official seals of the county branch of the Ministry of Social Security and the local prosecutor’s office. Under the belief that the man’s activities were state-approved – not an act of smuggling aimed at personal profit – the headquarters permitted the transaction at the border, according to the source. 

Onsong County, North Hamgyong Province
Onsong County, North Hamgyong Province. / Image: Daily NK

Around 10 days after the act of smuggling occurred, however, the head of a local inminban (people’s unit) and local government informants told agents with the counter-espionage department of the Ministry of State Security’s Onsong County branch what really happened.

In fact, locals had noticed the man bringing home and selling the goods he had smuggled into the country from China. The inminban head and informants found it particularly odd that traders were frequenting his home. They then told officials with the local branch of the Ministry of State Security what they had witnessed, which led the man’s smuggling activities to come to light. 

Following the man’s arrest by a team tasked with cracking down on “anti-socialist and non-socialist activities,” he was sent to the provincial prosecutor’s office where he will “likely face a life sentence of correctional labor for the crimes of brazenly violating state quarantine policies and engaging in personal smuggling using the authority of state agencies,” the source said.  

The source said that judiciary officials in Onsong County have expressed doubt that the man will come out of his predicament alive. Violating coronavirus quarantine policies is serious enough, they say, but nowadays, all illegal activity at the border “faces punishment harsher than ever before.”

North Korean authorities will reportedly interrogate the officials from the county-level Ministry of Social Security and local prosecutor’s office who allegedly helped the man. The source said that officials will also question the border patrol guards who allowed the man access to the river without thoroughly checking his credentials.

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