What Is the No.39 Department?

The newly revealed secret overseas bank account held by the No. 39 Department is just one of several accounts set up in various locations around the world to manage Kim Jong Il’s funds.

However, due to the financial sanctions brought about by two nuclear tests and multiple missile launches, the No. 39 Department’s secret overseas accounts are continuously shrinking. As one North Korean source in China put it, “Due to United Nation’s financial sanction against North Korea, the No. 39 Department’s management of its overseas secret accounts has become difficult.”

Now, due to the Cheonan incident, the U.S. is planning to put in place “customized” financial sanctions which incorporate existing UN Security Council and EU financial sanctions, so the No. 39 Department’s overseas accounts will only get more difficult to manage in the future.

The No. 39 Department’s overseas accounts, which allegedly contribute much to Kim Jong Il’s governing funds, are prime targets for financial sanction since they are key to transferring those funds generated by illegal activity.

According to intelligence authorities, the No.39 Department has a bank account with Daesung Bank in Pyongyang, and manages capital in some of the world’s most influential banks in Macao, Hong Kong, Germany, Japan, and England through a subsidiary of Daesung Bank, Gold Star Bank (Geumbyeol Bank) in Vienna, Austria.

The $25 million which was frozen in Banco Delta Asia in 2005 was allegedly known to be some of Kim Jong Il’s governing funds managed by the No. 39 Department.

Radio Free Asia reports that even the Luxembourg government seems likely to implement any new sanctions, quoting them as saying, “We are keeping a close eye on the illegal activities which can take place through North Korea’s overseas accounts.”

The No. 39 Department has 17 overseas branches, 100 trading companies and banks under its auspices. They generate foreign currency through loyalty funds collected from each agency and management of hotels and foreign currency stores. Also, they trade the country’s natural resources including pine mushrooms, gold and silver.

The department is also in charge of the production of “supernotes,” high quality counterfeit $100 bills, and has a role in weapons and the illegal drugs trade.

The funds are mostly spent on the living costs of the Kim family and the patronage network required to maintain his coterie of high officials. In 2008, the sum of luxury goods purchased by North Korea was estimated to be more than $100 million. For example, immediately prior to the anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birth on April 15th, North Korea imported approximately 200 high grade vehicles from China.

Since foreign currency generation started to become difficult due to the sanctions, Kim Jong Il has allegedly revived the No. 38 Department, which used to be in charge of overseas currency earning and was only merged with the No. 39 Department in September of 2009, and replaced the head of No. 39 Department with Jeon Il Choon, an old high school friend.

As Kim Kwang Jin, a North Korean defector who worked for the Northeast Asia Bank of North Korea, pointed out in a recent press interview, “The UN Security’s North Korea sanctions and the United States’ Banco Delta Asia sanctions must have caused the shrinking of North Korea’s overseas accounts. It is possible that North Korea could try to open accounts under phantom company names to continue with its financial trades.”

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