Daily NK has learned of a string of thefts of state property in North Korea. Theft is rising amid economic difficulties, but the authorities are pulling their hair out with the whereabouts of these most recent criminals unknown, says a source. 

A source in South Pyongan Province told Daily NK on Thursday that somebody recently stole car batteries from the Taedonggang Battery Factory in Pyongsong-dong, Pyongsong. “Some 30 rechargeable batteries made at the factory disappeared,” he said.

The source said the thieves used a metal bar to break the lock of the warehouse and made off with the goods. “The city branch of the Ministry of State Security is investigating, but they have yet to make any real progress,” he said.

The Taedonggang Battery Factory operates under the Ministry of Mining Industry. Because the state administers all the supplies and items at the factory, the thieves face serious punishment.

According to Article 89 of North Korea’s Administrative Penalties Law, people who steal the property of the state or of social cooperatives face up to three months in a labor camp. Thieves face even tougher punishments if they steal more than KPW 20,000 in property.

“Nowadays, the street urchins and porters who ran errands for merchants near the train station and general markets are just hanging around since they have no work,” said the source. “The Ministry of Social Security has fingered them as likely suspects and is keeping an eye on them.”

The “street urchins” and porters have long earned a living by running errands for merchants near the train station and general markets. Now, however, they cannot make ends meet due to economic troubles brought on by COVID-19.

The Taedonggang Battery Factory in 2012 / Image: Urriminjokkirri

North Korea’s investigative authorities are considering the possibility that these individuals may have stolen the goods and sold them elsewhere. However, no particular evidence has emerged that they committed the theft, said the source.

Another theft recently occurred, this time of the deadly substance sodium cyanide (NaCN).

The source said the poisonous material belonging to the provincial mining administration was stolen while being received. “One drum [80 kilograms] was lost,” he said.

The source said city security officials launched a focused investigation of local companies that manufacture, import or distribute chemical materials. “Locals are worried because of the loss of the sodium cyanide, a poisonous substance,” he said.

Sodium cyanide is a deadly substance used in smelting gold ore, electroplating and manufacturing fertilizers and medicines. In particular, it produces the lethal gas hydrogen cyanide when it reacts with water or acid.

“Sodium cyanide is usually used in smelting gold or silver and in poaching birds like pheasants,” said the source. “An investigation is underway of workplaces that use sodium cyanide.”

Investigators believe companies that smelt gold may have committed the theft when they found themselves unable to obtain needed supplies the legitimate way due to economic difficulties.

Sodium cyanide was one of the causes of the massive explosions that devastated Tianjin’s Tanggu port in 2015.

North Korean authorities worry that a similar blast and release of poisonous gas could occur in the country, too, but investigators still have no clue who stole the material.

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.
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Mun Dong Hui is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about his articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.