North Korean wholesaler of South Korean electronics under investigation

A North Korean inspection unit official checks a passerby in Chongjin City, North Hamgyong Province
A North Korean inspection unit official checks a passerby in Chongjin City, North Hamgyong Province. Image: Daily NK

Sources in North Korea report that a wholesaler who sold a large quantity of electronic goods made by South Korea’s Samsung in Chongjin was caught by the North Korean authorities and is currently being investigated by the provincial Ministry of State Security.

“The wholesaler brought in South Korean computers and televisions from a Chinese trader and handed them over to an electronics merchant who them sold directly to residents. He was taken to Chongjin City’s Ministry of State Security (MSS) and is being interrogated,” a source in North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK.

The source added that the wholesaler had been selling electrical goods in Chongjin’s Sunam Market but since last year, he began to bring in Samsung laptops and TVs into North Korea for sale. It is illegal to sell South Korean products in North Korea, but most vendors will simply remove or obscure the logos and sell them at higher prices.

The wholesaler was able to receive the products from a Chinese trader through long-term efforts.

In order to avoid being caught, he carefully covered the Samsung logos and sold them quickly by alluding to the fact that he had “the best products.”

However in June, when Group 109 (a North Korean agency created specifically to crackdown on the viewing and distribution of South Korean and foreign videos) was cracking down on illegal recordings, they discovered high quality electrical goods with their logos covered and after further investigation, learned that numerous laptops manufactured by Samsung had been circulated.

Last year, Group 109 pointed to the Samsung brand as a “puppet [of imperialism]” and designated Samsung cell phones as prohibited items.

What began as Group 109’s investigation into a computer distribution case took off when the Ministry of State Security began their investigation into the distribution network and identified the wholesaler as the original supplier. The Ministry of State Security also ascertained that the Samsung products were sold in other cities outside Chongjin.

“The MSS investigated everyone who bought and sold the computers and ordered retrieval of the products. The people who were taken into the MSS said that they bought them without knowing that the products were South Korean. The department has managed to retrieve all of the purchased products,” a separate source in North Hamgyong Province.

“[In the aftermath of the incident], the MSS conducted a political education campaign through factories, state enterprises, and the Korean Socialist Women’s League, asking people to check whether the products they’re buying are from South Korea or not,” said the source.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of State Security will soon wrap up their one-month long investigation and determine the penalty for the wholesaler.

It also appears that the North Korean authorities are further cracking down on the sale and use of smuggled cell phones. They are targeting calls being made to the outside world as well as identifying those purchasing the phones in bulk.

“Recently in Hyesan, a Mr. Kim who is in his thirties was arrested for purchasing several cell phones. The very next day after he made the purchases, two security officers raided his house and arrested him,” a source in Ryanggang Province told Daily NK.

According to the source, the security officers arrested Mr. Kim in front of his family without any explanation given. The family members later learned that Mr. Kim was accused of purchasing three cell phones.

“Recently, the MSS has instructed merchants to secretly report those who buy multiple cell phones. It is likely that a merchant informed on Mr. Kim to the department after he bought three cell phones and disappeared,” he said.

*Translated by Yongmin Lee

Sang Yong Lee is editor-in-chief of Daily NK and previously spent a number of years working as one of the publication’s foreign correspondents in China. He can be reached at