North Korea citizens working overseas is banned under UN sanction resolution 2397 and all workers should have been repatriated by December 2019. Pyongyang Papers has investigated breaches of the resolution for several years and will continue to do with help from our sources. Recent reports indicate that thousands of workers still reside in China & Russia unsurprisingly, with many more waiting to travel as soon as the North Korean border reopens. For our latest investigation we looked into a number of companies involved in the exportation of DPRK labor.

Korea Namgang Trading General Corporation (NTC)

The Korea Namgang Trading General Corporation (NTC) is a sanctioned North Korean company that also uses the alias Ryongrim General Construction Corporation. NTC was sanctioned by the US for engaging in and facilitating the exportation of North Korean workers to generate revenue for the regime. Namgang are known to send their workers globally to countries like Russia, Nigeria and multiple countries in the Middle East. The March 2022 UN panel of Experts report detailed an entity called Korean Namgang Construction General Corporation (aka DPRK Ryongrim Overseas Construction Company) working with Chinese companies to send DPRK construction workers abroad. Pyongyang Papers wonders if NTC & the Korean Namgang Construction General Corporation are actually the same entity?

Pyongyang Papers has been informed that NTC also has links to a company in Russia called Stroytransgaz-Vostok (Стройтрансгаз-Восток) and are looking at a multi-million $ construction project to build a museum and theater. Stroytransgaz-Vostok is a Russian engineering construction company. The company is a subsidiary of the Stroytransgaz Group controlled by Gennedy Timchenko (Геннадий Тимченко) through his Volga group. Timchenko is known to be close friends with Vladimir Putin and has faced multiple sanctions from the US due to being a member of the Russian leadership inner circle. He has also had assets frozen due to the war on Ukraine. The Stroytransgaz Group has had previous contracts to build museums and theaters and has also been included in the contract to build a cultural center to build ties with Korea, China, and Japan.

Current construction of the cultural center in Vladivostok – Stroytransgaz

Other Russian companies employing North Korean workers

Stroytransgaz-Vostok isn’t the only company in Russia that North Korean workers are sent to – Russian companies that have completed contracts and have employed hundreds of DPRK workers in Russian clothing factories include:

  • Hoebul Company
  • Arovana
  • Russi (Chinamo)
  • Ratulango Clothing Company
  • Unistore Company
  • Energokontakt Company

We are still investigating the companies listed above and would be interested in any additional information available surrounding involvement with DPRK sanction breaking. These companies are located in Moscow, St Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod and Vladivostok.

The North Korean company involved in some of these deals is Korea Unha General Trading Corporation (조선은하무역총회사). This trading corporation is described as being the largest clothing processing trading company in North Korea. It has 110 factories and even owns its own trading ships! They are known to export clothing, raw materials for the textile and shoe industry, grain, gasoline, diesel oil & North Korean labor!

Countries like Russia and China continue to disobey sanctions and provide the North Korean regime with a constant flow of revenue which is used to fund the nuclear and ballistic weapons program. North Korea continues to launch and test its missiles at an alarming rate. Countries helping fund the regime need to be held accountable to help stop the regime from exploiting its own citizens. If you have any information about North Korean workers in Russian factories, or any of the companies named in this article, please do get in touch through the contact us page.

DPRK and African Flags

As we have written about previously, it is well known that North Korea send workers abroad to bring money home for the Regime. Pyongyang Papers have previously talked about Doctors relocating to Africa but for this investigation we are zoning in on Niger and Nigeria. It is known that these workers should have returned home by December 2019 due to sanctions, but one healthcare professional told NKNews that North Koreans are still working in Nigeria despite the ban on overseas DPRK labor. In Novemebr 2020, Nigeria told told the UN Panel of Experts that a group of 37 North Korean healthcare professionals were awaiting deportation but due to lockdowns their cases were stalled. Here at Pyongyang Papers, we wonder if these 37 individuals were ever sent back to their homelands.

What else are they up to?

It has been reported that a range of North Korean-style hospitals have been set up in different African countries and some of them even sell prescriptions for herbal medicines that were later found to contain dangerous amounts of poisonous heavy metals! Information has been passed to us that indicate that complints against the DPRK are on the increase.

An advert for Faris Hospital Ltd.

One DPRK physician at Faris Hospital Ltd., had his contract terminated due to serious malpractice. Pyongyang Papers are led to believe that this physician is actively looking for a new contract with a number of Nigerian hospitals.

Overseas postings are highly sought after and usually reserved for the upper classes – Doctors in foreign postings can earn $1000 per month with $800 of that going back to North Korea. In contrast, those in the restaurant industry only tend to earn a few hundred dollars with similar proportions being deducted. DPRK doctors also tend to b able to move around more freely and are not restricted to strict rules like those working in restaurants. So no wonder this physician is keen to remain in work abroad!

North Korea’s own healthcare system is in a poor state due to lack of food and drugs – people are self-medicating and are being forced to have amputations when the drugs needed to cure infections are not readily available.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits hospitalized survivors of horror bus  crash | CNN
Kim Jong Un visiting patients in hospital

Where is the money?

Lack of funds also appears to be an issue overseas after a prominent member of staff at the Niger Optical Services Co. LTD., hospital located in Igbo-Ukwu Ekwulobia, Nigeria, recorded a complaint to the Chief Representative of the DPRK Chinson General Corporation Representative Office in Nigeria. This was about the medical staff, who joined the srvice in 2019, not generating enough income for the optical service. Pyongyang Papers wonders how much these medical staff are making for the Regime! And if they are not generating money for the service, how long can they remain employed?

Due to a long-standing relationship between Africa and North Korea since the Cold War, and the fact the labor is highly skilled yet cheap, the country and companies within it seems to be ignoring the UN sanctions for their own gain. These health workers in Nigeria and the rest of Africa are in violation of UN security council resolution 2397, even in 2020 (after the workers should have been sent home) North Korea and Nigeria signed a public health cooperation agreement and the Nigerian Health Minister claimed that Nigeria had a desire to learn from North Korea in the sphere of public health – this is concerning to hear with links to malpractice!

If you have any more information about DPRK physicians and health workers in Nigeria, here at Pyongyang Papers, we appreciate anything you can provide us. Please get in contact.

Following on from our previous investigation into Ri Chol Nam, who is involved in DPRK sanction breaking activities, we at Pyongyang Papers hope this next article might help with our appeal for more information on another individual, his associates and illegal activities . . .

Kim Chol Sok

In the March 2022 UN Panel of Experts report, an individual referred to as a North Korean Intelligence Officer of the Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB), who ran casinos, hotels, restaurants and bars in Cambodia. This individual was named Kim Chol Sok – who was reported to use several alias names including:

  • Sok Kha
  • Lee Un-Kang
  • Chang Sok-Kha
  • Kang Hyok
  • Li Yin-Chiang
  • Steven Lee

One of Kim’s businesses was a travel agency called C.H World Travel Co. Ltd. According to Cambodian authorities, this company was shut down along with its bank accounts. NK News found that in February 2022 this company was still legally registered and its social media was still posting content in September last year, although appearing to have changed its name to OD International Travel.

Cover photo from OD International Travel Facebook page

Money Laundering and Human Trafficking

Knowing that Kim is involved in the entertainment world, it wouldn’t be too far to say that Ri and Kim would have crossed paths, especially as Kim’s travel agency is also based out of Phnom Penh (the same place as Ri’s Unhasu Restaurant!) With both of these individuals having worked in the same city and both known for sanction breaking activity, we believe Kim Chol Sok and Ri Chol Nam worked together on several occasions. From our sources, Ri Chol Nam and Kim Chol Sok were also possibly involved in running money laundering schemes together and with reports of Casinos being used to launder money we wonder if this one way their relationship was mutually beneficial.

During 2014 to 2019 Casino licenses in Cambodia increased by 263% even though the country’s ban on online gambling curtailed the growth. Due to the huge increase in gambling establishments, Police began to struggle to monitor them and thy became attractive to organized crime and money laundering.

Both Ri Chol Nam and Kim Chol Sok are known for sanction breaking activities and Ri also has connections to individuals who operate within the Taiwanese criminal underworld. Kim was sanction by the Department of the treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) in 2015 for connections to DPRK’s weapon proliferation efforts and led a criminal empire of business in Cambodia that trafficked illegal drugs, counterfeited currency and offered illegal gambling services.

An article by Agbrief about Kim Chol Sok, also mentioned forced labor in Casinos that goes as far as human trafficking! We at Pyongyang Papers wonder if Kim uses his travel company to bring in workers for his entertainment businessesif you have any information to back this theory up, please do get in contact. Lee Hong Mann is also included as a second director at CH World Travel, we wander if she is involved too? Lee’s surname may hint at an ethnicaly Korean background but does not appear in any of the UN reports. A scan of a passport appearing to belong to Lee suggests she has been granted access to Canada until at least 2025!

Cambodia and organized crime

Cambodia is one of the few countries in the world where North Korean can go to set up illegal business to interact with legitimate communities around the world – reports show that Pyongyang backed counterfeiters have been laundering fake $100 bills in Cambodia, noting these indivduals also had Cambodian identity cards and passports. Cambodia sells these passports to the highest bidders and the North Koreans pay – to add to this, the Cambodian authorities reported to the UN that Kim Chol Sok used fake diplomatic passports. No question to how he got hold of those!

As of October 2021, the Cambodia authorities were taking legal action to bring Kim Chol Sok to trial but he has not returned since leaving the country in November 2020 – if you have any information on Kim’s whereabouts please do get in touch through the ‘contact us’ page. Even though both Ri Chol Nam and Kim Chol Sok have left Cambodia, we believe they are still working together.

Regular readers into DPRK sanctions evasion will have heard of Winson Oil or the Winson Group previously. Pyongyang Papers investigated Winson Oil and their involvement facilitating the sale of oil to North Korea in 2020.

In March 2021, the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and C4ADS went a step further and were able to unpick the complicated web of companies, individuals and ships involved in the Winson network. This network included criminal links, shell companies and a range of obfuscation techniques in use to try and hide the illicit activity. The ‘Black Gold’ report details how Winson Oil are a key node in the DPRK’s fuel procurement network and were using their links, as a major regional oil trader, to help breach sanction resolution 2397 (2017). The resolution states that “all member states are prohibited from supplying, selling or transferring crude oil that exceeds the aggregated amounts of 4 million barrels or 525,000 tons per 12-month period from 22 December 2017”.

The UN Panel of Experts contacted Winson Oil who naturally denied involvement and stated: “Winson denies, in the strongest possible terms, any and all allegations and/or insinuations that it knowingly facilitated the illicit supply of oil to North Korea in breach of any United Nations Security Council resolutions, and/or that it is a ‘key node’ in North Korea’s procurement of oil or refined petroleum products”. However the UN investigation highlighted some flaws in Winsons denial of any involvement as the individual, Mr. Chen Chi-wei, had used the same address, as was used to register one of Winsons ships, to register the company Winson had dealt oil to.

Jie Sheng Ship Management Co., Ltd

Jie Sheng Ship Management (傑陞船舶管理顧問有限公司) is a company that is not likely to be familiar to many but their relationship with Winson is slightly suspicious and warrants further investigation. Pyongyang Papers have been advised that Winson have recently transferred a number of ships to Jie Sheng Ship Management Co., Ltd and investigations online suggests this is true. The ships include:

  • ANGEL 22 (IMO 9191230)
  • ANGEL 33 (IMO 9011404)
  • ANGEL 38 (IMO 9175743)
  • ANGEL 101 (IMO 9101455)
  • ANGEL 106 (IMO 9141895)
  • ANGEL NO.1 (IMO 9434709)
  • ANGEL NO.2 (IMO 9146027)
  • OCEAN CRYSTAL (IMO 9116905)
  • OCEAN SPLENDID (IMO 9221683)
  • AT HONOR (IMO 9316555)
  • NEW HARMONY (IMO 9208605) – Previously named the ANGEL 17 and still appears on the Winson homepage

This itself in not unusual as ships are often sold when a company is looking to upgrade its fleet or adjust its business model. However, some additional details regarding the Jie Sheng Ship management Co., Ltd leave us wondering what is really going on.

Other Links

A news article from July 2022 about the ANGEL 33 being abandoned at sea after a leak suggests that Jie Sheng operates mostly tankers that are used to supply fuel to fishing trawlers at sea. This model of operating is very similar to the shuttle method described in the ‘Black Gold’ report. The news article also suggests that Jie Sheng Ship Management Co,. Ltd operate around 20 tankers. A very sizeable amount but appears to have a very minimal online presence apart from a few business listings offering limited information. This is regularly noted as a potential indicator of a shell company. One business listing suggests that Jie Sheng is located at Floor 25, No. 29, Hanbian Road, Lingya District, Kaohsiung City, Taiwan. Floor 25 is believed to be one of the floors owned by Winson Shipping Taiwan! Several other Winson related companies are also registered to the same address adding to our suspicions.

Jie Sheng Ship Management Co., Ltd
Online business listing for Jie Sheng Ship Management Co., Ltd

Online social media profiles also suggest a deeper connection between Jie Sheng Ship Management Co,. Ltd and Winson. Several individuals claim to have worked for both companies at the same time and recent posts show crew on board some of the Jie Sheng Ship Management Co., Ltd vessels wearing clothing with the Winson Group logo on them.

All of this suggests that Jie Sheng may just be a shell company that Winson has setup. The shell company could be completely innocent but Pyongyang Papers asks the question, why does it need to exist in the first place? With the Winson Groups previous activity and subsequent denial of any wrongdoing, along with the limited company information and setup. We suggest that the company is likely being used to hide current or previous illicit activity and Pyongyang Papers would appreciate any additional information that may be available to help our ongoing investigation. As always, you can get in touch through the ‘Contact Us’ page.

North Koreans brokering deals and earning commission seems to be a current trend that Pyongyang Papers is investigating on a regular basis. This option of earning currency to send back to the regime is attractive as it allows North Koreans to earn money without ultimately having to be directly involved in the movement of good and services which may come under scrutiny. Brokering deals is also very attractive as it allows the North Koreans to stay under the radar of law enforcement whilst ensuring the deals appear completely legitimate. In many cases the vendors involved in the deals may not be aware that North Koreans are facilitating the deal!

Chong Sang-Hun

As mentioned previously, Chong Sang-Hun is an official at the DPRK embassy in Thailand who often brokers deals to earn huge amounts of commission with minimal risks. His previous deals involve gold, coking coal and copper cathodes. Pyongyang Papers sources have informed us that Chong is currently working on a commission based deal worth millions of dollars on behalf of Taiwan based company Semiconductor Equipment Manufacturing Inc. (欣憶電子股份有限公司) – SEM.

SEM street view
Street view of the Semiconductor Equipment Manufacturing office in Taoyuan, Taiwan

SEM, also known as Xinyi Electronic Co., Ltd. at times are “One of the renowned suppliers and exporters of semiconductor machinery in Taiwan” according to their website and are based in Zhongli District in Taoyuan City. Their primary business is buying, selling, leasing and refurbishing semiconductor related equipment. Pyongyang Papers wonders how much the chairman Chu Smith knows about North Korean involvement in brokering business deals for his company? We are continuing to investigate Chong and SEM but if you have any information regarding the deal, please get in touch through the ‘Contact Us’ page.

Brokering deals – A worrying trend

North Koreans and their friends brokering deals, either for the regime or to help the regime, is not new but does appear to increasing in regularity. Back in 2012, a notorious British international arms dealer named Michael Ranger was prosecuted and jailed for brokering an arms deal between North Korea and Azerbaijan. The latest UN Panel of Experts midterm report also note that Haegumgang Trading Corporation, a DPRK weapons trading entity, was planning on brokering $3.5 million worth of military equipment to Nigeria in June 2021, And in July 2021 a South Korean-born Australian named Chan Han Choi was sentenced to over 3 years in prison for breaking UN sanctions by trying to broker deals for missile components and coal to raise funds for the regime, Chan Han Choi had a history on involvement with North Korea and had previously tried to involve North Korean athletes in the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000.

Allowing the DPRK to broker deals, and their allies to broker deals on behalf of North Korea unchallenged ensures that the regime has a steady flow of cash to continue to pursue its nuclear ambitions and maintains instability in Asia. Recently the DPRK regime has increased their missile tests to unprecedented levels with Kim Jong Un recently stating the DPRK’s need to secure “overwhelming military power”. This has North Korea watchers around the world wondering if a nuclear test may be imminent. Pyongyang Papers calls on the UN and other investigative bodies to look into the use of brokers and the role they play in avoiding sanctions.

As always, if you have any information regarding the topics in any of our articles, please get in touch through the ‘Contact Us’ page

North Korea is one of the only few countries worldwide that is still not a member of the International Labor Organization (ILO), choosing instead to continue exploiting its citizens and using forced unpaid labor to fuel its economy.

High number of DPRK laborers in China are only increasing

Since Kim Jong Un became leader of the DPRK in 2011, the number of workers sent abroad has increased to earn foreign currency for the regime. DPRK contracts with foreign governments including: Russia; parts of Africa; East and South East Asia; Middle East and Eastern Europe are all receiving forced labor with their movements and communications under constant scrutiny by DPRK government ‘minders’. Any complaints by the workers, or those who flee, will have consequences and will result in action being taken against their relatives back in the homeland.

We all know the Human Rights are an issue when related to the DPRK, well, Pyongyang Papers have been tipped off about incidents of assault amongst North Korean Laborers by their unit managers within their neighbors and close ally, China. Is China also turning a blind eye to this behavior? The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has a long record of circumventing sanctions in order to trade with the DPRK. According to the U.S. State Department’s 2021 Trafficking in Person’s report, there are between 20,000 to 80,000 DPRK workers in China. With reports suggesting that the Chinese Labor market is worsening (worse than the official monthly figures) with less jobs available nationwide and Chinese youth jobless rates hitting record high of 20% in July, we are not sure how much work there actually is for these thousands of North Korean workers when they get to China. With money still being sent home to the Regime, China is paying the price for this partnership.

Forced to work in poor conditions

Those that do have work are subject to back-breaking labor for 12 hours a day and are even banned from leaving their accommodation or work places since the Covid pandemic – even before that, they were only allowed to leave for their local markets in small groups. Add these poor conditions to the reports of assaults, the DPRK workers are more like slaves! North Korean authorities have also sent orders to the North Korean consulate, underscoring that officials should keep a closer eye on the workers to prevent them form fleeing and to work harder. These orders have obviously trickled down to the managers and put pressure on them to deliver! Pyongyang Papers would like to think this is isolated, but fears the worst, as we understand several China-based DPRK labor cooperation managers had verbally abused, along with physically attacking their fellow countrymen.

North Korean workers and imports continue to cross border into China  despite UN sanctions | South China Morning Post
DPRK laborers allowed to leave their dorms

As well as failing to send the DPRK workers home before December 2019 deadline (as ordered by UN sanctions), it looks like the Chinese companies that employ these illegal workers also have no regard for their safety and well being. There is no excuse for this behavior and in a civilized society this conduct would not be tolerated. Perhaps the managers are more concrrned by meeting targets than the welfare of their underlings.

There are so many wrong doings on DPRK workers in China but as usual, money comes before basic human rights. Will the international community stand by the people of North Korea by putting further pressure on Pyongyang? If you have any information about DPRK workers in China, please reach out to us.

During our investigations, Pyongyang Papers comes across all sorts of entities and individuals involved in sanctioned North Korean activity. Very few are quite as interesting as the individual we have been investigating recently – Ri Chol Nam. As part of our investigation into North Korean ran restaurants in Laos a source informed us that the Pyongyang Unhasu restaurant in Cambodia should be investigated.

Pyongyang Unhasu restaurant

The Pyongyang Unhasu restaurant – Located at 10A, Street 315, 12151, Phnom Penh – is part of the “Pyongyang” chain of restaurants, with around 130 locations worldwide. This chain of restaurants is owned and operated by Haedanghwa Group, an organization belonging to the North Korean government. The Pyongyang Unhasu restaurant is located Phnom Penh, Cambodia with Ri Chol Nam listed as director and chairman of the board of directors before he transferred ownership of his restaurant to a Cambodian individual named Vath Bonna following penalties from the Cambodian Ministry of Labor and the Cambodian Ministry of Commerce. Pyongyang Papers contacted Vath Bonna regarding the restaurant ownership but did not receive a reply.

Since 2017, UN resolutions state that “all member states are required to prohibit, by their nationals or in their territories, the opening, maintenance and operation of all joint ventures or cooperative entities, new or existing, with DPRK entities or individuals, whether or not acting for on behalf of the government of the DPRK.” An article from May 2018 about the closure of three North Korean restaurants in Phnom Penh, including the Pyongyang Unhasu restaurant, stated that all three remained open despite the UN sanctions and when Ri Chol Nam was questioned about where the money the restaurant made was sent, he stated “I’m mortified by your question” … “I cant answer that”. In addition to the closures of DPRK restaurants, the Cambodian government sent a letter to the UN stating that 115 North Korean workers were allegedly deported.

According to journalists, the restaurants are one of several overseas business ventures of Room 39 – a secretive North Korean party an criminal organization that seeks ways to generate money for the country leaders with each of the restaurants chain funneling between $100,000 and $300,000 a year back to North Korea.

Pyongyang Papers have also been informed that Ri has links to the Dragon Spa Foot Leisure Massage Health Center operating next to the Pyongyang Unhasu restaurant. Although company records show the restaurant is no longer on the register, the Dragon Spa appears to still be operating from the same building in Phnom Penh – The signage for the restaurant and the spa sit above he same door. There are few signs of this as a viable business online but there is one review about the Unhasu restaurant from a lady who attended for a massage and felt the business was more like a “whore house”. No wonder the business is not listed anywhere!

The Pyongyang Unhasu restaurant and Dragon Spa Foot Leisure Massage Health Center

Ri Chol Nams other activities

Another interesting aspect to Ri Chol Nam and his activities is that he is also a very well regarded Grand Master in Taekwondo and has links to International Taekwondo Federation (ITF). He has been involved with the ITF Cambodia for almost 2 decades and also acts as the chairman of the Technical Committee for the Asian Taekwondo Federation. One of his students, a gold medal winner at the world championships, posted on social media that Ri Chol Nam was leaving for his “homeland” in March 2022. The post was very personal and showed photos of other students saying goodbye in tears and singing farewell songs. At Pyongyang Papers, we wonder if Ri Chol Nam has i fact gone home or has set up camp in another country, Contact us if you know where he is currently residing.

Strangely, Ri Chol Nam’s tagged social media profile looks very similar to the name of the restaurant that was unregistered 2 years ago – Hasu Un. Strange how he is no longer affiliated to the restaurant but is still using social media account with links to it. Although the paperwork indicates Vath Bonna is the owner, Pyongyang Papers believes Ri is still involved behind the scenes with the Pyongyang Unhasu restaurant. There are also other social media accounts for the restaurant, two of which have been recently active, suggesting it remains in operation and is still making money for its homeland – yet another example of DPRK sanctions breaking.

A recent posting by the Pyongyang Unhasu Restaurant on social media

Whilst conducting our research on Ri Cho Nam, we have found that he also has a contact in the Royal Gendarmerie of Cambodia, a branch of the Royal Cambodian armed forces and within the Cambodian government itself. Keo Remy is the Cambodian ITF Taekwondo Federation chairman but also holds the position as the president of the Cambodian Human Right Commission (CHRC). The irony of Keo Remy’s relationship with Ri Chol Nam isn’t lost on Pyongyang Papers given north Korea’s terrible human rights record.

Keo Remy & Ri Chol Nam at a Taekwondo event

We are unsure how Ri Chol Nam managed to find the time to run a restaurant business, ‘massage parlor’, teach Taekwondo and hold positions within the ITF. Pyongyang Papers will continue to investigate Ri Chol Nam and his connections to uncover more illicit activity that he may be involved in. If you have any information on Ri Chol Nam, please get in touch through the ‘Contact Us‘ page.

Pyongyang Papers has recently reported on DPRK illicit sanction breaking activity which involves North Korean officials brokering deals and netting $millions in commission, which is funneled back to the regime’s ballistic weapons money pot. Since our last article, we have been busy investigating more million $ commission-based dealings with Chong Sang-Hun and Chong Hyok.

China’s Port of Ningbo-Zhoushan

The latest deal we have been investigating involves thousands of tonnes of copper cathodes being delivered to China’s port in Ningbo, over a 12-month period. The port is located in Ningo and Zhoushan, on the coast of the East China sea and is the busiest port on the world in terms of cargo tonnage, however it has faced much disruption since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Ningbo-Zhoushan port
The port of Nigbo-Zhoushan

The copper cathodes deal is between a Indonesia-based trading company International Investment Trading (IIT) and China-based Liaoning Zhongwo Petrochemical Co., Ltd. (LZPC.) IIT have been commodity re-traders since 2019, specializing in the gold, copper, steel and oil products. Chief Exec Mr Micheal E Jones claims to ‘believe in transparency’, ‘are hungry to grow’ and are ‘proud to offer their clients and suppliers a fair deal at a reasonable price’. LZPC have been operating since 2021. Here at Pyongyang Papers we wonder if IIT’s clients are aware of their illicit involvement which in turn supports the DPRK’s nuclear program?

Coking Coal from Russia to China

Sang-Hun and Hyok have also facilitated another deal on behalf of China involving hundreds of thousands of tonnes of coke, originating from Russia. China, the world’ biggest coal consumer, is drastically increasing it’s domestic coal output. However, the quality o the fuel produced from its own mines is low and unsuitable. Metallurgical coal is key feed stock for steel making, meaning Chinese steel-makers are still dependent on overseas suppliers for coking coal.

After the US, Russia is the second in line with the World’s largest coal reserves. However, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, many buyers in Europe along with Japan had already significantly reduced their dealings with Russia. Coupled with this, since August Russian coal imports have been subject to a ban in the European Union.

This has resulted in Russia significantly discounting their cargo – well below rates from other suppliers, like Indonesia and Mongolia.

Not to miss out on an offer, China have seized their opportunity. Reuters reported in May on record surges of coking coal imports from Russia to China, with a Beijing-based coal trader stating ‘Chinese and Indian traders are snapping up Russian cargoes as Western companies scale back, even though the embargo has not officially taken affect yet’.

According to Chinese customs data, Coking coal imports from Russia to China jumped to 2.5 million tonnes in September, from about 900,000 tonnes in the same month last year and 1.9 million tonnes in August.

DPRK earn Commission on China Cole Deal

The coke deal brokered by the North Korean officials is being delivered to China’s port in Longkou, with China Rozhao Le Song Trading Co., Ltd being the recipient. Longkou port is a artificial deep-water international seaport located in the province of Shandong, which imports and exports mainly consist of cargoes from the petrochemical industry.

Pyongyang Papers wonders whether the embargo will have any effect on Russia. Especially as China are more than happy to increase trading. Even if they are not involved in the deals directly, the DPRK will find any way possible to earn some quick money and break sanctions. If you are aware of any deals involving the DPRK, please get in touch with us through our ‘Contact Us’ page.

In one of our previous articles, we wrote about illegal DPRK restaurants in Laos, this left Pyongyang Papers with many questions; mainly how have the North Koreans been able to stay under the radar of the authorities in Laos even after the UN Panel of Experts have been investigating their activity. Luckily some people do have insight into this murky world and have been willing to share their knowledge with us. A common theme that seems to appear often is … bribery.

North Korean run restaurants in Laos

Perhaps not that unsurprising, given the previous methods we have seen used by North Korea to avoid sanctions and make money for the regime, Pyongyang Papers has been informed that when looking to open a restaurant the North Koreans will often find a local contact and use their details to setup a business in their name. If a restaurant is closed down, the name of the restaurant is often changed and new business registered under the local contacts name. In some cases it appears that some of these restaurants shut for ‘renovation work’ before re-opening as if it was a completely new place to eat. As mentioned previously, According to the 2022 UN Panel of Experts report, four North Korean restaurants are still in operation even after measures were taken to close them down. DPRK nationals also continue working in these restaurants despite an earlier deadline to repatriate them. Virtually nothing is known about these illegal workers. An online review spoke about one of these restaurants and noted that it appears they are not allowed to interact with non-North Koreans and politely smile when asked anything about the restaurant they are working in. In one interview, a waitress declared that the restaurant she worked in was “owned by all North Koreans” and nodded when asked if the North Korean Government owned it.

Work permits & the authorities

So how do these North Koreans get work permits to continue working in countries like Laos? After all, it is well known that allowing DPRK nationals to work overseas is against UN resolutions. It appears it is common practice to bribe the Laos police to stop reports of illegal working making its way to the attention of those who could potentially stop it happening and make it hard for the restaurants to operate successfully. The corruption doesn’t end there though! We have also learnt that even the Laos immigration authorities will take bribes for processing work permits. This seems to be a common practice in Laos – According to a report by Asia Development Bank, almost 70% of businesses that applied for documentation had paid bribes to officials to get the job done. Connections and money are integral for doing business in Laos!

North Korean girls perform at a North Korean restaurant – Source AP

To go even further up the chain of bribery. We have been made aware that even a Laos judge has been bribed by North Koreans. This time the bribery relates to making a favorable judgement to a North Korean who was having difficulty getting money off a Laos national they had been working with. How ironic that the North Koreans are plying their illegal trade and have to appeal for justice after being scammed!

Of course authorities taking bribes isn’t new, but with North Korea recently declaring itself a nuclear weapons state its more vital than ever that authorities tackle the flow of money heading back to the regime and we hope the Laos government will take some action against this happening. It has been suggested by the Laos Chamber of Industry and Commerce to go to an online processing method to minimize person to person contact and in turn the opportunities for bribery. As always, Pyongyang Papers will continue to investigate illicit activity by the DPRK and other entities or countries that are involved in enabling the regimes nuclear and ballistic weapons program. If you have anything you would like us to investigate then please get in touch through the ‘contact us’ page.

It seems the DPRK have zero boundaries when it comes to the illicit sanction breaking activity they are involved in the fund their nuclear weapons program. Pyongyang Papers has recently reported on the DPRK’s ventures in cyber-crime, adding to it’s tried and tested methods of generating funds such as ship to ship transfers, overseas workers and importing luxury goods.

Pyongyang Papers has been informed of a deal involving DPRK officials in Southeast Asia. Chong Sang-hun, based in Thailand, and Chong Hyuk, based n China, are acting as middlemen in brokering deals that netted $millions in commission. We have noticed that when the DPRK have no illegal services or goods to offer themselves, instead they use their nationals, often those acting in official roles such as Sang-hun and Hyo’k, broker these deals for other countries and as a result earn a commission fee to send back to the regime.

The deals for the purchase of tonnes of gold over a 12 month period were on behalf of the Chinese company Hainan Huaxian trading Company Ltd. (HHTC) as the buyer and Golden Lion Precious Resources Pte Ltd as the seller.

Golden Lion Precious Resources are an exempt private company with a registered address at 7, Temasek Boulevard, #12-07, Suntec Twoer One, Singapore 038987. the company’s activity is gold bullion brokers.

Our investigation into HHTC and their involvement in illicit North Korean activity is still underway, but we have been made aware they were also in the market to purchase multiple hundreds of thousands of tonnes of aluminum ingots over a two-year period. We wonder if San-hun and Hyok will jump at the chance to make some quick money off the back of this deal too.

Nuke testing

Kin Jong Un’s persistent refusal to stop north Korea’s nuclear testing program resulted in enforced UN international sanctions in September 2017. Resolution 2270 states that all member states are to prohibit DPRK diplomats, government representatives (or DPRK nationals working in that capacity) from participating in joint ventures and any other business arrangements.

However, it seems the constant tightening of UN sanctions, crippling the North Korean economy, have still not deterred Kim Jong Un from testing Nukes. In fact, since the sanctions were introduced the missile tests have increased at an alarming rate.

In 2020, North Korea conducted four missile tests. This doubled in 2021 to eight tests. In 2022, Kim Jong Un has so far conducted 16 tests, and judging from recent speech he made at a military parade, Kim Jong Un appears defiant in increasing the country’s nuclear capabilities:

“We will continue to take steps to strengthen and develop out nation’s nuclear capabilities at the fastest pace,” he said, adding that their nuclear forces ‘must be ready’ to be exercised at any time, according to a report by the Official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). Despite in the past proclaiming that the nuclear weapons would only ever be used in acts of self-defense, his speech indicated that this may not be the case. “The fundamental mission of our nuclear forces is to deter a war, but our nukes can never be confined to the single mission of war deterrent even at a time when a situation we are not desirous of at all is created on this land. If any forces try to violate the fundamental interests of our state, our nuclear forces will have to decisively accomplish its unexpected second mission. The nuclear forces of our Republic should be fully prepared to fulfill their responsible mission and put their unique deterrent in motion at any time”.

Adversaries & Allies

The increase in nuclear weapons could be a direct response to increasing tensions with North Korea’s long-term adversaries – the united States and the republic of Korea.

The recent election of South Korea’s new president Yook Suk-yeol, who has voiced a harsher line on North Korea’s actions, has frayed relations between the countries who already have problematic history. In 2018, Kim Jong Un agreed a suspension on long-range ballistic missile tests and nuclear tests following talks with the then US president Donald Trump. Kim Jong Un announced he was no longer bound by his promise in 2020 when relations between the two countries seem to have become increasingly fraught since.

Coupled with this, Kim Jong Un has been displaying public support for Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine, despite strong condemnation by the US ad its allies. North Korean state media published a recent letter sent from Kim Jong Un to Vladimir Putin, congratulating Russia on the occasion of its Victory day holiday. Within the letter Kim also send ‘solidarity to Russia’s peoples achievements’ that fundamentally aim to ‘eliminate’ political and military threats posed by ‘hostile forces’ and ‘protect the dignity, peace and security of the country’ adding that ‘friendly relations that’s strategic and tradition’ between North Korea and Russia will ‘strengthen and develop . . . with the demands of the times’.

It remains to be seen what Kim Jong Un’s next move will be. But judging from his recent activities, we can be certain it will be provocative and of a hostile nature. Until North Korea agree to cease it’s nuclear weapons program, the security of it’s neighboring countries and adversaries are at great risk. the world must unite and put a stop to the countries and organizations that continue to help the reckless and unruly regime fund it’s weapons program that threatens us all.

If you have any further information on organizations involved in sanction breaking activity, please get in touch with us at Pyongyang Papers.