Smoking and North Korea go hand in hand. According to a World Health Organization report in 2019, 46.1% of males above the age of 15 smoke tobacco, and the numbers have been high for years.

Tobacco was first introduced in Korea in the early 1600s from Japan, and until around the 1800s, both men and women smoked profusely. Today, smoking is still a frequent and expected activity for North Korean men, yet female smoking is now considered a taboo.

Although it may be unthinkable for females, Pyongyang have no objections with one of its local residents at the capital’s zoo lighting up a cigarette. Azalea (Korean name “Dallae”), a smoking chimpanzee, is the star attraction at the zoo and regularly has citizens roaring with laughter as she puffs away on a pack of cigarettes a day, despite outrage from several animal rights activists. This, another clear display of total disregard towards animal welfare and an appalling attitude towards a deadly habit that unfortunately we have come to expect from the DPRK.

Azalea, as seen in the image below, isn’t the only prominent figure in the DPRK with a cigarette always in hand, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is regularly photographed smoking on his public outings, despite the many health concerns it entails.

Smoking is a leading cause of death in North Korea, and as of 2010 mortality figures indicated that 34% of men and 22% of women die due to smoking related causes. This is the highest smoking related mortality figures in the world and these figures have only continued to rise.

The numbers are so concerning that Pyongyang introduced the tobacco prohibition law in November 2020. The tobacco prohibition law prevents North Korean’s from smoking in public places and sets out rules to provide a ‘more cultured and hygienic’ environment for citizens. It has also apparently been introduced to tighten the legal and social controls on the production and sale of cigarettes.

We are yet to confirm if Kim Jong Un is leading by example and quitting the tobacco since introducing the prohibition law. However, here at Pyongyang Papers we can confirm that North Korea’s illicit tobacco trade with other member states continues to burn on.

Ryugyong Corporation

Pyongyang Papers have previously investigated the significant role that North Korean cigarette manufacturing company Ryugyong Corporation has played in the DPRK revenue generating machine. It is an arm of the central government, subordinate to the Korea Worker’s Party Finance and Accounting Department (Bureau 125), which handles budgetary and accounting matters for the regime.

Ryugyong Corporation may sit at the heart of the criminal global network but they do not operate alone. Our sources have informed us that Chinese tobacco company Poly Tobacco International Limited and Ryugyong Corporation have conducted business amounting to hundreds of tonnes of tobacco leaves and ancillaries worth millions of dollars. This contravenes the imposed UN Resolution which prohibits the importation and/or facilitation of luxury goods (like tobacco) into North Korea.

Poly Tobacco International Limited used Chang Myo’ng Sik, a Dalian-based representative of the Liaoning Pilot Free Trade Zone Manrong International Trade Co., Ltd as a third-party payee.

Dalian

This is not the first time Dalian (a port city in Northeast China, close to North Korea) has been linked with involvement of the illicit tobacco trade. In 2016, Nikkei Asia published an article which detailed how two shipping containers with cartons of legitimate North Korean cigarettes concealed packs of pirated Marlboro’s. The Manila shipment, seized in October 2013, included 8.79 million counterfeit Marlboro s in 439,000 packs; the shipment in Malta in June 2014 held 8.16 million sticks in 413,999 packs. A source put the street value of the two shipments at $4.2 million to $8.4 million.

According to shipping documents, the sender for both shipments was Dalian based company ‘Sun Moon Star Trading‘.

Naxiades

As previously reported by Pyongyang Papers, Ryugyong has also had dealings with Greek trading house Zafiris Naxiades (ΖΑΦΕΙΡΙΟΣ ΖΑΞΙΑΔΗΣ), based in Thessaloniki. Despite our previous investigation exposing their illegal activity we can confirm Naxiades continues to facilitate the sale of tobacco and flavorings to North Korea.

Pyongyang Papers have been informed Zafiris Naxiades also hosted a North Korean tobacco delegation at the Hotel Panorama in Thessaloniki in October 2019, shown below.

Funding the nukes and the DPRK elites

The regime relies on unlawful activities (such as the manufacture and sale of illegal drugs, counterfeit consumer goods, human trafficking, arms trafficking, wildlife trafficking, counterfeit currency and terrorism) and willing co-conspirators to continue to provide a steady source of income for its nuclear weapon program and to maintain the lifestyle of the countries elite. Clearly the citizens who do not form part of Pyongyang’s elite are not deemed worthy of this funding, as they continue to battle the ongoing humanitarian and health crisis that has plagued North Korea since the early 1900s.

Compared with drugs, smuggling tobacco is low-risk and high reward. The illicit tobacco trade is one of the most lucrative revenue streams for the Kim regime, an industry worth tens of billions of dollars worldwide since the product can be sold without the high taxes that exist in many wealthy countries.

Whilst many North Korean factories appear to have been hit hard by sanctions, it appears the tobacco factories and nuclear weapon funds are still thriving. As always, Pyongyang Papers pledges to continue to expose those who choose to collaborate and profit from the DPRK’s sanction breaking behavior and campaign for the human rights of the oblivious nationals held captive by the relentless Kim dynasty.

North Korea’s continued pursuit of a ballistic nuclear weapon program, along with the UN security council-imposed sanctions it faces, regularly dominates the headlines. This often reduces the focus on the millions of citizens, living in Pyongyang and other neighboring cities, facing a huge humanitarian and health crisis.

The humanitarian and health crisis in North Korea existed long before the COVID-19 pandemic spread around the world. Unfortunately, North Koreans are no stranger to famine having endured a period of mass starvation and economic crisis between 1994 & 1998 known as the ‘Arduous March’ or the ‘March of suffering’. Estimates vary hugely but between 240,000 and 3,500,000 North Koreans died of starvation and malnutrition due to a number of factors including economic mismanagement and poor decision making from the regime. More recently, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic with immediate border closures, preventing the import of food and medicine which has further intensified the current crisis. An increased number of citizens begging for food, a rise in homelessness and desperate need for antibiotics and medicine puts the North Korean economy on the brink of recession according to Jiro Ishimaru from Asia Press.

Pyongyang and Beijing

Beijing has been North Korea’s closest foreign ally since the fall of the Soviet Union, with China often accused by other UN member states of stalling and persistently discrediting the accusations of the DPRK’s continued efforts to violate UN Security Council resolutions. However, the DPRK’s trade with China shrank by approximately 80% in 2020 after the nation sealed its borders.

Not only has the pandemic disrupted the relationship between Pyongyang and Beijing, recent reports of a high level North Korean official dying after being given a Chinese-made injection has strained the relationship further. Kim Jong Un reportedly became very angry after learning about the incident and has banned the use of all Chinese medicines at major hospitals in Pyongyang, including Chinese made COVID-19 vaccines.

This isn’t the first time that the regime has had to adopt this extreme stance, in 2005 the government demanded a directed crackdown to try and eradicate the illegal medical practices of retired DPRK doctors using medicine and equipment smuggled from China. Orders were given to each municipal and provincial procurator office to “eradicate private doctors” and to “actively control profit-making anti-socialistic activities by the doctors who must care for the people’s health”.

Healthcare in the DPRK and abroad

Pyongyang Papers have reported before on the failing healthcare system in the DPRK. Despite their claims of offering free national medical service and health insurance to all citizens, many defectors and refugees have revealed that this in fact only applies to the uppermost classes citizens who often come from a long lineage of people devoted to the socialist regime.

The majority of citizens instead must pay for medical procedures along with the equipment and medications needed alongside it. Due to the fact state-run hospitals are so expensive and unreliable, many North Korean’s instead turn to the cheaper option of doctors and surgeons who practice illegally and discreetly in their own homes.

Death by dangerous practice

Although the uppermost class may receive free healthcare, the standard of medical practice received from DPRK doctors is poor. Unfortunately, the death of a high-level North Korean mentioned above is not the first of its kind. There have been other reports of death caused by North Korean doctors practicing medicine illegally both in the DPRK and abroad.

Even though the North Korean health care system may be crumbling due to a lack or resources including medicines and basic medical equipment, this does not stop the regime from sending North Korean doctors overseas to generate much needed income to aid its ballistic nuclear weapons program. One of the countries that has North Korean doctors present is the Republic of Congo.

Information has been forwarded to Pyongyang Papers from a contact within the Republic of Congo that two DPRK doctors have been arrested and charged with illegal practice of medicine and manslaughter. The contact informed us that the Doctors were from Korea Moranbong Medical Cooperation Centre (Moranbong) and working in the Republic of Congo. A Republic of Congo based representative has so far failed to get the two doctors released.

The fate of the doctors is yet to be determined- but the future of the DPRK’s economy, humanitarian and healthcare crisis looks bleak as the regime continues to prioritize its own aims ahead of the needs of North Korean citizens wo continue to suffer.

If you have any information on illicit DPRK activity, please get in touch.

Since 2017 the United Nations has listed coal amongst the goods and services sanctioned against North Korea as shown in our previous article. The security council declared that the “DPRK shall not supply, sell or transfer, directly or indirectly from its territory any coal”. The resolutions go on to say “all states shall prohibit the procurement of such material from the DPRK”.

Despite UN sanctions, trade in coal continued to be a huge revenue generator for the regime, with the DPRK continuing to export the coal illegally via deceptive maritime practices such as ship to ship transfers. This trade contributes vast sums of money to aid the DPRK regime in its proliferation of prohibited nuclear and ballistic missile program. Coal is North Korea major export and foreign currency earner with most of North Korea’s coal being exported through China in a clear breach of UN sanctions. Estimates for DPRK coal reserves at around 4.5 billion tonnes worth in the region of $600 billion.

Due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, North Korea shut its borders in early 2020, resulting in a decrease in trade of up to 81%. However, it has been reported that trade between North Korea and China has resumed as of April 2021, with no doubt coal being a priority for the DPRK.

Chinese Involvement

Pyongyang papers has been investigating Chinese involvement in helping break sanctions against North Korea for some time. In 2016 police in China announced a criminal investigation into Chinese company that conducts extensive trade with North Korea. During this investigation Chinese authorities discovered that for a long time a company named Dandong Hongxiang Industrial Development Co. Ltd. engaged is suspected economic crimes during trading activities.

Dandong is the largest Chinese border city and located on the western border of North Korea, facing Sinuiju, North Korea, with the two cities connected by the Sino-Korean friendship bridge along with rail links to Shenyang and Sinuiju. Dandong Hongxiang Industrial Development operates the commodity distribution business and has a number of front companies associated with it. Dandong Hongxiang was sanctioned by the US in September 2016 and Dandong Hongxiang personnel were indicted by the US on sanctions evasion charges in June 2019. It appears that the head of Dandong Hongxiang, Ma Xiaohong, and a number of her colleagues were accused of violating the international Emergency Economic Powers Act on a conspiracy to defraud the United States and launder money. According to the indictment, Dandong Hongxiang is a Chinese company whose core business was trade with North Korea, and had at its disposal at least 20 front companies to obscure illicit financial dealings on behalf of sanctioned DPRK entities that were involved in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Ma Xiaohong, head of Dandong Hongxiang

Pyongyang Papers has received information about Dandong Hongxiang’s recent sanctions breaking activity. Our investigation would suggest that Dandong Hongxiang have not learnt from the past and have used the Chinese vessel “Hong Rui 8899” for the transportation of anthracite coal from Taean Port, North Korea. Korea Hangsong Trading Corporation was listed as the shipping company for the cargo. During our investigation Pyongyang papers has also discovered another vessel involved in transporting anthracite coal this time through Daean Port. The “Jang An” traveled from North Korea and performed a ship to ship transfer in the sea waters outside of Shanghai.

Reporting in the latest UN Panel of Experts report proves that the activity highlighted above is only the tip of the iceberg and with the DPRK regime suggesting that North Korean orphans are ‘volunteering’ to work in coal mines it is clear that the regime is willing to do anything to generate revenue. Even if this includes forced child labor and sanctions evasion!

If you have any information that could expose DPRK sanctions evasion, please get in touch.

Kim Restaurant

As reported many times previously, current UN sanctions imposed upon the DPRK limits the import of crude oil and refined petroleum, bans all imports of luxury goods, and prevents North Korean citizens from working overseas. North Koreans are often employed in the restaurants, construction and agricultural industries abroad.

The thousands of North Korean citizens working overseas, mostly in China and Russia, have provided a vital source of cash for Kim Jong Un’s regime over the years. According to US government estimates, Pyongyang has netted $500m annually from its overseas workforce. The UN clampdown seeks to block a steady flow of revenue back to Kim Jong Un’s regime, in the hope the sanctions force the regime to cease its nuclear weapon program. However, the DPRK have employed illicit tactics to continue it’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapon program, often with the help of foreign enablers. These enablers often hide in disguise as member of the United Nations…

Two allies, one border

China is key ally to the DPRK and their most important trading partner. China’s support for North Korea dates back to the Korean War and since the war, China has lent political and and economic support to North Korea’s leaders. Yet, the DPRK put a strain on the relationship when Pyongyang tested a nuclear weapon in October 2006, forcing Beijing to back the UN Security Council Resolution 1718 which imposed sanctions on Pyongyang.

Despite being an active member of the Security council, China has been accused by other member states of stalling and persistently trying to discredit or argue the accusations of the DPRK’s continued efforts to violate Security council resolutions. In some cases, China has been accused of helping facilitate the illicit import of refined petroleum products through ship to ship transfers and direct deliveries.

As published in the 2020 midterm Panel of expert’s report, communications from the delegation of the United States of America were fairly damning of China’s involvement:

China and Russia’s annual obstructionist response to these reports is intended to prevent the UN from accounting for the large-scale, illicit refined petroleum product imports that the DPRK maintains while offering no alternative for how to reflect these volumes, which are being documented with irrefutable evidence. The United Sates, other Committee members and the Panel have made extensive efforts to resolve the ton to barrel conversion issue. China and Russia’s refusal to enter those discussions in good faith to reach a resolution and its comments in response to this report only reinforce that their intentions are to obstruct the committee’s responsibility to maintain and accurate accounting of the DPRK’s actual refined product imports.”.

Restaurants in China contravening UN sanctions

When responding to the UN Panel of Experts investigation in 2020 China stated that it “…has faithfully implemented the provision of Security Council’s resolution on repatriating all DPRK nationals earning income abroad”. However, it is no great surprise that China’s commitment to ensuring DPRK citizens have been repatriated may not be as genuine as they like to portray. This is particularly evident when it comes to the food trade and particularly overseas workers in restaurants. Pyongyang Papers has been investigating claims that restaurants in the Yanji and Jian areas specifically are actively employing DPRK workers despite sanctions.

There are believed to be over a hundred North Korean restaurants in China, with many located within the provinces along the North Korean border. Some of these restaurants are run as joint ventures between North Korea and China. During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic many restaurants were forced to close their doors and there were reports of workers, who were already being exploited by their own government during a global pandemic, being forced to take night shifts or moved to alternative employment in order to meet the financial demands of the regime.

North Korean restaurant in Dandong
North Korean run restaurant in Dandong, China

Yanji and Ji’an

Recent reports suggest the situation has changed and many North Korean restaurants on the border have began operating again. Pyongyang Papers has received information that the Helong representative of Korea Chonryong Trading General Corporation, So Yung Guk, set up DPRK workers for the Yanggak Restaurant located in the city of Yanji, Yanbian province.

Whilst in the Myohyangsan Restaurant located in Ji’an, the region of Changchun, China, the restaurant’s manager removed any reference to DPRK within the restaurant. A Pyongyang Papers source has indicated that this was on the orders of Chinese officials, presumably to help ‘hide’ any overt North Korean involvement in the restaurant and shield and illegal sanctioned workers.

What’s in it for China?

So why does China continue to support their difficult neighbor? China’s strategy boils down to the following- “no war, no instability, no nukes”.

Written in order of priority, China’s main focus is to avoid another Korean war which could ultimately end in a unified, pro-American Korea right on its border. Keeping close ties with the DPRK also benefits China in managing its rocky relationship with the US, it provides China with leverage to be involved and broker a deal between the two nations to denuclearize– further reinforcing China’s powerhouse status in the world of global politics.

As always, if you have any further information on North Korean sanction evasions please get in touch with Pyongyang Papers.

As reported previously, Pyongyang papers has been hard at work investigating and exposing oil smuggling and sanctions evading activities through ship to ship transfers to DPRK vessels. It would appear that there are no end of companies that are willing to disregard sanctions and smuggle commodities and goods for the North Korean regime. The threat of a damaged reputation and financial ruin if they are caught seems to do little to deter some companies from working with North Korea.

This new Pyongyang Papers investigation centers around methods used by ‘flagged’ vessels registered in third country.

Panama

Entrance to the Panama Canal
Entrance to the Panama Canal

Panama is positioned on one of the worlds most important trade routes which connects the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans. The Panama Canal has offered a short cut for shipping wanting to avoid the hazardous cape horn for over 100 years.

Panama has by far the largest flagged shipping fleet in the world. So why would such a small nation with a population of less than 4.5 million inhabitants have the biggest fleet in the world? One answer is because its easy to obtain registration. Panama operates an open registry. This is a not a new concept. Ships have used false flags as a tactic to evade enemy warships with examples from as early as the Roman era through to the Middle Ages. The term known as a ‘flag of convenience’ has been used since the 1950’s. However, the modern day practice of ships being registered in third party countries began in the 1920’s.

Why Panama?

What are the advantages of registering under the Panama flag? Well there are a number of advantages. Panama offers the advantage of a quick and easy registration and slack maritime regulations. Ships flying the Panama flag often belong to foreign owners that wish to avoid stricter maritime regulations imposed by their own country. Another advantage is the ability to employ cheap foreign labor with the added bonus of foreign owners paying no income tax.

To Pyongyang Papers this practice does not appear very ethical as it enables illicit trade, sanctions evasion and criminal gain worth millions of dollars every year. Although legal, Pyongyang Papers wonders if this practice should be allowed to continue or should international laws be changed so that flagged vessels should be registered in home countries and therefore governed by the home countries maritime regulations?

Pyongyang Papers has been investigating one such Panama flagged vessel named SUNWARD. The SUNWARD sails under IMO 8920115 and is an oil tanker built in 1990. The tanker has had a number of name changes in the past including GREAT FISH and SUNNY FALCON. Pyongyang Papers has information that the listed owner for the tanker as of 2019 was ‘Sunward Marine S.A.’ based in Kaohsuing, Taiwan with the commercial operator named as ‘Wills International Co. Ltd’ listed at the same address. This would point to the tanker being operated out of Taiwan.

Information from our sources has confirmed that the tanker SUNWARD has been used to evade UN sanctions. The vessel has been acting as feeder ship enabling the import of sanctioned oil to North Korea. Feeder ships are normally large tankers that load the oil from port and travel to a location where where ship to ship transfers will take place to often smaller vessels. During March and April this year the SUNWARD has been in action loading fuel at Taichung port in Taiwan, and transferring it to at least four DPRK tankers with a total of nearly 9,500 metric tonnes and worth millions of dollars.

Taichung Port, Taiwan
Taichung Port, Taiwan

The following four DPRK flagged vessels were spotted receiving fuel from the SUNWARD:

SIN PHYONG 2 (IMO 8817007)
AN SAN 1 (IMO 7303803)
UN HUNG (IMO 9045962)
SAM JONG 2 (IMO 7408873)

The SAM JONG 2 was listed in the latest UN Panel of Experts Report as receiving a ship to ship transfer from another Panama flagged vessel the RI XIN. The UN report also highlights a number of other Panama flagged vessels that have been supplying UN sanctioned oil to North Korea via ship to ship transfers, including:

HANG YU 11 (IMO 8694194)
INFINITE LUCK (IMO 9063811)
RI XIN (IMO 9121302)
CHAN FONG (IMO 7350260)
KOYA aka HATCH (IMO 9396878)
RI HONG (IMO 9162318)
NEW KONK (IMO 9036387)
MOUSON 328 (IMO 9021198)

Pyongyang Papers believe that its time to add another tanker …. SUNWARD to this list and to urge the Panama authorities to look at the flag of convenience loop hole and police this practice. Without this loophole being closed the DPRK will continue to receive sanctioned goods that will ultimately fuel their quest for revenue to be used to support the regimes prohibited nuclear and ballistic missiles programs. If you have any information on North Korea sanctions evasion please get in touch.

There are many images of Kim Jong-Un enjoying a ride in a luxury sanctioned vehicle in recent years and the shops in Pyongyang appear to be filled with watches, champagne and high-end technology. It seems that despite sanctions on luxury goods, the DPRK is still able to overcome these to guarantee the best experiences for the elite or those willing to pay for it. Pyongyang Papers first reported on North Korea’s illicit luxury goods trade back in 2018, where we detailed North Korean brokers sourcing luxury goods for the elite whilst normal citizens within the country were struggling with fuel shortages that were crippling food supplies.

Breaking the rules

According to the Panel of Experts 2020 midterm report and the recent final report in March 2021, luxury vehicles have been found within the DPRK despite efforts by the manufacturers to try and stop this from happening. Manufacturers including Mercedes-Benz and Toyota (Lexus) have had their vehicles found in the country. Both UN reports mention Mercedes-Benz S-Class 600 Sedan Long Guard VR9s specifically and the final report adds Lexus vehicles to this list of sanctions breaking behavior. It seems that the Mercedes-Benz vehicles passed through multiple countries including Italy & the Netherlands to make it from the manufacturer and eventually into the DPRK.

It seems that this method of sanctions evasion is still ongoing! A source close to the supply chain confirmed to Pyongyang Papers that a shipment of luxury goods and vehicles, including several newly manufactured Lexus 570 SUV’s and a Mercedes-Benz AMG, along with more UN sanctioned goods worth in excess of $1.2 million was due to be delivered to Ningbo Beilun, China with onward travel to the DPRK. This is in breach of the UN resolution prohibiting the sale of luxury items to the DPRK. Ningbo Beilun has an international port which has been heavily invested in by the Chinese government, also showing a continued increase in revenue over time. Clearly it is getting well used by the DPRK!

Kim Jong-Un has been seen, in recent years, showcasing several Mercedes limousines as well as a Rolls Royce Phantom and Lexus. Add to this the images of Kim Jong Un’s wife, Ri Sol-Ju, carrying handbags made by Chanel and Dior. This is in complete contrast to the citizens of North Korea who are facing potential famine under the current situation in the country. Despite offers, the DPRK has refused international aid meant to help fix this humanitarian crisis. It is unfortunate that whilst these citizens suffer through the pandemic, the elite in DPRK are able to obtain seemingly vast quantities of luxury goods.

China and the DPRK

The relationship between China and the DPRK has not been straightforward during the period of enforced sanctions on DPRK. China voted in favor of United Nations sanctions against DPRK when the country carried out its first nuclear test even through the two countries signed the Sino-North Korean Mutual Aid and Cooperation Friendship Treaty in 1961. The treaty encourages economic cooperation between the two countries and could explain why it is common for China to have been found facilitating DPRK breaking sanctions along with the financial reward they will gain from the transaction. China is the largest trading partner of the DPRK which might also explain this illicit behavior!

Routes to smuggle DPRK sanctioned items have frequently involved China, as seen in the recent case of Lim Cheng Hwee, who was jailed for supplying alcohol to North Korea. Another report written by C4ADS in 2019 describes the techniques and lengths the regime are willing to go to evade sanctions and get luxury goods into the DPRK. This includes Mercedes vehicles being shipped through China!


As always, if you have any information about evasion of DPRK sanctions, please get in contact with Pyongyang Papers.

In December 2017, The UN Security Council implemented resolution 2397 as the DPRK regime were generating foreign export earnings to fund its ongoing missile related activities. The Security Council determined that the DPRK continues to exist as a clear threat to international peace and security and so the sanction was implemented requiring all member states to prohibit any North Korean nationals from engaging in business in foreign countries. At the same time the December 2019 deadline was agreed for the repatriation of all North Korean workers back to the DPRK.

Ballistic Missile Program

North Korea has had a keen interest in developing nuclear weapons since the 1950’s and the ballistic missile program initiated under the Kim dynasty continues today under Kim Jong Un’s regime. North Korea has developed and tested a number of new missiles since Kim Jong Un became leader in 2011, including tests of various models of solid fueled short range ballistic missiles taking place in recent years.

A North Korean missile launch – March 2020

Although you would think that countries within the UN would be fully on board with efforts to prevent the DPRK’s ballistic missile program, along with the threat of penalties for defying the UN enforced sanctions, this is unfortunately not the case. Pyongyang Papers has continued to investigate companies working with North Korea in illicit activity, no doubt hoping to go unnoticed.

UAE Residency Permits

Pyongyang Papers sources have received information that the Korea Kumgang Company, also known as Korea Konggang Company, employees Ri Jun MIn and So In Chol both received United Arab Emirates residency permits. Our sources understand that this was preparation for over 100 DPRK workers to travel to United Arab Emirates, which in turn would continue to provide the DPRK regime with foreign export earnings to fund its ballistic missile program.

The UAE has always been a strong ally of the US. However, it doesn’t seem that the UAE is carrying out their promise that they would no longer be issuing visas to North Korean nationals, as claimed by the UAE Foreign Ministry back in 2017.

Laos and Nepal

Pyongyang Papers has also received information that Ri Jun Min and So In Chol have been busy brokering another overseas worker deal, this time using the Nepal DPRK Embassy as a conduit to a Laos Government official to supply over 1000 workers. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is likely that the workers are still in North Korea with their cases packed waiting to travel!

Although it could be surprising that the UAE are violating sanctions, the same cannot be said for Nepal and Laos. According to a 2019 article describing the repatriation of North Korean workers, the Nepali communists have always had an admiration for the Workers Party of Korea and they view North Koreans as courageously fighting the imperialists, aligned to their own ideologies.

Only now has unrelenting American pressure to enforce UN sanctions against Pyongyang distanced Nepal from their North Korean comrades. The same article reports that most North Korean businesses in Nepal have been shut down and the workers sent home. The UN in Nepal had expressed worry that the North Korean businesses were sponsoring Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons development program.

Laos Cooperation Agreement

According to press releases in April 2020 the Foreign Ministries of Laos and North Korea signed a new cooperation agreement in Vientiane to replace the previously expired one. North Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) called it an agreement that ‘would make an important contribution to further consolidating and developing the friendly relations’. Laos also maintains an embassy in Pyongyang.

It seems no matter what sanctions are thrown at the DPRK, they always seem to find a way to evade them. However, this is only possible due to the help they receive from other countries who also violate the sanctions despite the pledged effort to denuclearize the DPRK. It is worrying that these countries seemingly prioritize the financial reward from these transactions above international peace and security, rather than standing up to the regime and its attempts to evade sanctions.

If you have any additional information about the Korea Kumgang Company or any other North Korean sanctions evasion please contact Pyongyang Papers.

A relationship between North Korea and Cambodia has been in place since 1965 when Cambodia’s Norodom Sihanouk met Kim-Il Sung. Even after Sihanouk lost his power in government the DPRK was still supportive. They built a palace for him and even provided bodyguards when he became king and returned to Cambodia. In more recent years the DPRK has invested in Cambodia’s Angkor Panorama Museum. The museum’s director Yit Chardaroat stated to Aljazeera “63 artists toiled for more than a year to complete the panorama”. The artists came from North Korea which designed, built and bankrolled the $24m project through the Mansudae Art Studio. According to the article, the first 10 years of profits are going straight to North Korea.

However the first sign of cracks in the country’s relationship started to appear a few years ago. Forbes reported that Cambodia rejected an official visit from North Korea’s Foreign Minister back in 2016. This was followed by reports of Pyongyang sending North Korean assassins to Cambodia to conduct terror attacks against South Koreans as well as the emergence that the Kim Jong Nam murder suspects used Cambodia for 3 practice runs of the attack. The relationship was certainly failing when other DPRK officials were also denied access. Perhaps all this was a result of North Koreas reckless approach to weapons, or it constant attempts to avoid sanctions and deny human rights abuses. Cambodia were certainly not only country to be severing ties.

A Change in Relationship

It appears the relationship between the two countries is now falling apart. The Korean Herald reported in January 2020 that Cambodia had shut down 7 North Korean businesses in the country, including the Angkor Panorama Museum which was staffed by North Koreans. This is all result of UN sanctions. Pyongyang Papers has also learned that as part of this crackdown North Korean IT workers are relocating to China from Cambodia. This just adds to the volume that are present in China. It is estimated that around 50,000 North Korean laborers are still in China which has been citing COVID-19 as the excuse for not repatriating these illegal workers.

The Angkor Panorama Museum

Our sources have revealed a group of IT developers led by an individual called Hwang Ju Yong have been forced to leave the country by the Cambodian government, along with other North Korean workers in Cambodia. They were working for the Chongsin Information Technology Company, based in Pyongyang. The majority of North Koreans in Cambodia have relocated to Yanji in North Eastern China. According to the UN Panel of Experts midterm report, hundreds of workers access to China was sponsored by the sanctioned entity Yanji Silver Star Network Technology Company LTD.

China Still Aiding Sanctions Evasion

Clearly, the DPRK and China still have no intention of abiding by the current sanctions. With North Korea benefiting from its workers abroad it looks like they will use whatever means necessary to generate revenue and China are happy to support this relationship. It has recently been reported that a 10 day quarantine process in designated accommodation has been set up in the Jilin Province facing the North Korean border. This is specifically for North Korean workers and proves that even with huge potential risks posed to its citizens the DPRK is happy to ignore sanctions in the pursuit of money for the regime.

Do you have information about Cambodia’s involvement with the DPRK? If you have any information about this or North Korean sanctions evasion please get in touch with Pyongyang Papers.

Radio Free Asia reported last year on the state of North Korean workers abroad and specifically Africa. Their appropriately titled piece says it all – “North Korean Workers Remain in Africa Months After Sanctions Deadline To Repatriate”. They referred to Tunisia’s repatriation report following sanctions on North Korea, where it was stated that most African countries were ignoring sanctions. The deadline for UN member states to repatriate North Korean workers passed over year ago on 22 December 2019.

It is well known that many African countries have maintained close ties with North Korea, with previous reports describing major construction projects in Africa including monuments, museums, government buildings and weapons factories, and even training for soldiers and police officers. The line between military and construction projects in such a bilateral relationship is often blurred and is well described in “People for Profit: North Korean forced labor on a global scale“. When both parties are engaged in acts that are mutually beneficial it is no surprise to hear of them ignoring UN sanctions. This certainly appears to be the case with a Togo based company – (Societe) Alzema SARL. According to business listings, Alzema SARL is registered in Lomé – Togo

Lome
Lomé – Togo

Alzema SARL

Pyongyang Papers has been informed that a number of DPRK medical staff are currently working in Togo for the organization Alzema SARL. Alzema SARL are headed by Alassane Yatabare, who is listed as the Company Director General. The company specializes in construction materials and also has links with the mining sector. Pyongyang Papers believes that the medical staff are supplied by the DPRK Moranbong Medical Cooperation Company as required.

Pyongyang Papers has reported previously about North Korean doctors in Africa. Is the provision of medical staff into construction companies with ties to mining a way to maintain links in this area, perhaps for future proliferation of staff? Or maybe Alzema SARL have branched into medical provisions. We know from previous UN Panel of Experts reports that North Korea has sent mining representatives abroad in the past.

With political, economic and military incentives for Africa and North Korea it is clear to see the reason companies and the regime are so keen break sanctions and exploit workers abroad. However, this is the first time Pyongyang Papers have heard about them doing this under the name of God.

Links to the Church?

Our sources indicate that North Korean doctors Han Yong Il and Hwang Yun Bin met with the Togolese Ministry of the Interior thanks to Churches of the Evangelical Ministry of the Works of God of Togo who set up the meeting.

The irony of the DPRK links to churches does not escape Pyongyang Papers. Christianity is not something that openly ventures into North Korea, not publicly anyway without harsh consequences. The DPRK is described as being an atheist state, with no real freedom of religion. According to the 2021 World Watch list, North Korea is the worst offender for persecution against Christians. A position it has held for 20 years in a row! So, using churches to facilitate meetings proves the lengths the regime will go to avoid sanctions and achieve its ambitions.

Are you aware of any other church involvement helping evade sanctions against North Korea? Or if you have information on any other North Korean sanctions evasion please get in touch with Pyongyang Papers.

This year has seen a pandemic affect the whole world, infecting over 66 million people and resulting in excess of 1.5 million deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. There are very few countries unaffected by COVID-19. With one of these exceptions being North Korea who have recently taken offense to South Korean remarks by an official! Pyongyang Papers questions how the DPRK has managed to avoid what has been described by some as the worst pandemic the world has ever seen? Is it realistic that a country of over 25 million people sharing a border with the rumored country of origin has escaped without any cases or is this claim just propaganda? Pyongyang Papers has investigated this story!

According to the UN Panel of Experts midterm report, the DPRK responded rapidly to the COVID-19 outbreak with border closures and enforcing severe quarantine measures on thousands of its citizens. Flights to and from China and Russia were suspended in late January, except for a single flight to Vladivostok on 9 March. Passenger rail services to China and Russia were also suspended at around the same time, as was cross-border road transportation – immobilizing the DPRK’s economic lifeline.

Vladivostok

Even if the unlikely claims that there have been zero confirmed cases of COVID-19 within North Korea are true, unfortunately the same cannot be said for the North Koreans based overseas. Pyongyang Papers has been informed that North Korean citizens working illegally overseas in Vladivostok, Russia, have contracted COVID-19 and that many more are in quarantine. Issuing work permits to nationals of the DPRK is currently prohibited due to the regimes continued pursuit of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, with Russia citing prevention of travel due to COVID-19 as their justification for non-compliance with UN sanctions.

Instead of helping their citizens and providing healthcare, North Korean officials have apparently grown angry with their citizens and issued a stern warning to keep the virus away from North Korea. It seems it is too late for those poor North Korean workers already infected, as North Korean officials are now demanding extreme measures from the infected citizens in Vladivostok. No doubt to ensure that North Korean workers illegally in Russia are not identified, in the future, as the way that COVID-19 entered the DPRK.

Vladivostok view
An image of Vladivostok

DPRK Healthcare

North Korea claims to provide universal healthcare with a national medical service and health insurance system that is all offered for free, however this claim is widely disputed by North Korean defectors. They claim that patients must pay for all health care services and that the upper classes have a higher standard of health care. “How much money a patient has determines whether they live or die”.

Neurologist Choi Jung Hun, a North Korean defector, disputes Kim Jong Un’s claims that North Korea has not had a single case of COVID-19, believing that the deadly virus entered the country prior to the closure of the 1400Km shared border with China at the end of January. When asked the motive behind the DPRK falsifying this information, Choi stated “The healthcare system is very weak. They don’t want to show that to the world”. Instead the DPRK have been quietly seeking help from China, Russia and other UN agencies. Lack of basic medical supplies, equipment, sanitation and access to water are just a few of the difficulties that the DPRK could face in this aggressive war against COVID-19.

Tripoint Memorial in Fangchaun, China
The Tripoint Memorial in Fangchaun, China

The Regime

More importantly it is not only the rest of the world that the DPRK wants to fool with their claims, it also wants to uphold the following of its own population. As Dr Choi states “If it becomes clear that the health care system cannot take care of the people then they will lose confidence in their government. It would mean the system is not infallible”.

It is well documented that the North Korean regime mistreats its workers abroad. Pyongyang Papers has previously published an article investigating the regime refusing permission for severely ill workers abroad to receive treatment. The regime views its illegal workforce abroad as a means to make money to be sent back to Pyongyang and continues to show a total disregard for human life, even during a global pandemic!

If you have any information about evasion of DPRK sanctions, please get in touch with Pyongyang Papers.