North Korean law enforcement recently probed a car wash and disinfection station near Pyongyang after allegations surfaced that it was running a prostitution ring, Daily NK has learned. 

“The station wasn’t earning as much money as before so the manager turned to prostitution to keep up the station’s profits,” a South Pyongan Province-based source told Daily NK on Monday. “Word got out about the prostitution ring and rumors spread among locals. Then the police got involved and conducted an investigation.” 

This is the first time that Daily NK has learned of a prostitution ring being operated at a state-run business. Increasingly, North Koreans have opened up massage parlors in their homes or are engaging in covert sex work at saunas and restaurants as economic conditions in the country has worsened.

North Korean car wash and disinfection stations are located at the entrance of roads leading into Pyongyang as part of the city’s efforts to control disease and ensure vehicles entering the city are clean. Cars that pass through the stations are thoroughly examined and those deemed “unsanitary” undergo a mandatory wash and/or disinfection. A single wash and disinfection costs drivers USD 4. 

Frequent visitors to Pyongyang, however, have begun getting their cars cleaned in advance before reaching the stations. Stations have accordingly faced a dip in their profits. What’s more, North Korean truck and van drivers nowadays have less of a need for the stations because they are often accompanied by helpers who keep their vehicles clean.

The station facing a police investigation apparently had trouble meeting its USD 2,000 monthly quota set by the state and turned to prostitution to make up its losses. After recruiting prostitutes, station attendants began targeting drivers traveling into Pyongyang from earlier this year. 

“The station hired pretty women and charged clients USD 20–30 per session,” another Daily NK source in South Pyongan Province said. “Rumors spread about the car wash station running a prostitution ring, but the police didn’t do anything. It was only when locals began complaining that they started an investigation and put a stop to it.”

After the authorities investigated the station in early September, the head of the station was called in front of a local party committee and forced to write a self-criticism about his actions.

“Locals complained [about the lack of disciplinary action] and said that the head of the station should face more penalties for running a prostitution ring instead of disinfecting and cleaning cars,” the source said. “Ultimately, he was just forced to write a self-criticism. We’ll have to wait and see if he will face further punishment.”

*Translated by Violet Kim

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