Ringleaders of gold smuggling ring harshly punished

The ringleaders were ultimately executed, while the donju who owned the mine was handed a prison sentence of 15 years

The revelation that the ringleaders behind a gold smuggling ring were part of a foreign currency-earning company operated by the Ministry of State Security has led to severe punishment for all those involved, Daily NK has learned.

According to a Daily NK source in the country, the individuals who supervised the gold smuggling scheme have been executed and long prison sentences have handed out to their accomplices. 

“It turns out that the smuggling was arranged by the heads of the general affairs department and financial affairs department at a trading company affiliated with Unit 10121 of the MSS’s Logistics Bureau,” a source in Yanggang Province told Daily NK on Aug. 6. “[The two officials] are believed to have been executed in secret after the investigation revealed they had a long history of smuggling gold.” 

According to the source, both officials had been stealing gold from a gold mine in Hoechang County, South Pyongan Province, and illegally selling it to China. At one point, they had teamed up with the member of the donju (North Korea’s wealthy entrepreneurial class) who owned the gold mine to arrange transfer of the gold to a smuggler. The entire scheme came to light when the smuggler was caught by security agents on the border as he was trying to send them into China. 

Daily NK previously reported that a professional smuggler attempting to move 58 kilograms of gold across the Yalu River near Hyesan had been arrested along with two border guards paid to look out for trouble. 


According to the source, the gold smuggling scheme is being treated very seriously in light of the fact that North Korean authorities are heavily cracking down on illegal activity near the border to prevent the spread of COVID-19. News of the scheme was also sent all the way up to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the source said. 

The Ministry of State Security was able to uncover the identity of the ringleaders after a thorough interrogation of the smuggler. The investigation found out, however, that those responsible for the scheme were connected with a trading company affiliated with the ministry, placing ministry officials in the awkward position of having to punish members of their own agency. 

Hyesan killed
A view of Hyesan, Yanggang Province, from the Chinese side of the border. / Image: Daily NK

Recognizing that there was a possibility that the ministry may attempt to cover up misconduct by those within its own ranks, the central government put the Ministry of Social Security – North Korea’s national police force – in charge of handling the case and punishing those responsible. The ringleaders were ultimately executed, while the donju who owned the mine was handed a prison sentence of 15 years. 

While it appeared likely during the initial stages of the investigation that the smuggler would be executed as well, he was given a prison sentence in consideration of the fact that his testimony helped to bring all the ringleaders to justice. Then, however, the authorities learned from owner of the mine that the smuggler had been engaged in gold smuggling with Ministry of State Security officials for seven years. The man was soon re-sentenced to life in prison and sent to a prison facility in Hamhung, South Hamgyong Province. 

“The border patrol captain caught with the smuggler on the banks of the Yalu River has been sent to a [military] labor camp and will soon be discharged from the military,“ the source told Daily NK. “It looked as though the security officer who turned them all in might receive a lighter punishment, but he was ultimately given a dishonorable discharge when it was discovered he had been involved in smuggling before.”


The arrests and executions have reportedly led to an atmosphere of fear among members of the border patrol. Border guards are scared that being caught smuggling rare metals – classified as government-owned assets – could ruin their lives.

“Border guards and base commanders have been ordered to strengthen their political and ideological education with a view to instill greater vigilance and a sense of duty in protecting the national border,” the source said. 

North Korea’s Border Patrol Command has reportedly instructed border guards in the same unit as those involved in the gold smuggling scheme to “reflect on their actions” until Aug. 15. Specifically, this means that each member of the unit must submit a 20-page document that includes a self-criticism describing acts they have committed while blinded by greed as well as a self-reflection that details smuggling and other illegal acts committed by their comrades.

“At present, all of this only applies to the unit in question, but there is talk that such measures may be expanded to all border patrol units,” the source said. “Everyone is cowering in fear at the threat of a second or third wave [of punishment]. Accordingly, other units are applying pressure on that unit, urging them to do a proper job of writing their [self-criticisms and self-reflections] so other units aren’t punished.”

The source further speculated that “all of these self-criticisms, [ideological] lessons, inspections and [the atmosphere] of people turning on each other will last around three more months, but then everyone will return to smuggling again when things calm down.”

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Ha Yoon Ah is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.