Two North Koreans from South Hwanghae Province were recently arrested after sneaking into Hyesan, Ryanggang Province, to smuggle gold across the Sino-North Korean border, Daily NK has learned.

“The two residents of Onjing County, South Hwanghae Province, tried to smuggle gold into China through Hyesan but were arrested by the Ministry of State Security [MSS],” a Ryanggang Province-based source told Daily NK on Tuesday.

A group of Ongjin County residents living near a gold mine had heard that gold prices had increased internationally and decided to smuggle the gold out of the country, the source explained.

The group had entrusted the smuggling of the gold to two locals. The two men then headed to Hyesan and stayed in a local house as they planned to smuggle the gold out of the country.

Hyesan currently bans any outsiders from entering the city as part of measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and this has applied to people from Samjiyon and other nearby places who seek to stay in the city.

The two South Hwanghae Province residents were reported to the MSS by an alert inminban (North Korea’s lowest administrative unit) leader who found they were staying in a house in her district.

MSS agents decided to conduct surveillance on the two before moving to arrest them. The surveillance operation was aimed at better understanding why the men had come to the border region and who they were planning to meet.

The agents later found out the two had come from South Hwanghae Province to smuggle gold across the border and moved in for the arrest before a transaction could take place.

“The two South Hwanghae Province residents had hired brokers on both sides of the border and even paid off border patrol officers. They were heading to hand off the gold when they were arrested by MSS agents in front of their house,” the source told Daily NK.

“The agents found four nuggets of gold in their bag,” the source continued. “Altogether, the gold was worth around RMB 200,000 [USD 28,106].”

Locals expect the two men to be punished by the authorities for trying to smuggle gold out of the country amid intense crack downs on smuggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the source added.

While the border patrol officers involved in the aborted transaction may still face an interrogation over their part in the scheme, locals reportedly expect them to face only light punishment because the smuggling operation failed.

The two South Hwanghae Province residents, along with their North Korean broker and the couple whose house they stayed at, are reportedly being held in MSS custody.

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