Who knew that Western Europe was a hotbed of DPRK diplomats behaving badly? The Pyongyang Papers didn’t. But we’re hearing more about shady North Korean affairs in Europe.
The first of these stories concerned an individual called Jo Kwang Chol.
Jo is a 42 year old North Korean posted to one of the world’s most livable cities – Vienna. Although not listed as a diplomat in the North Korean Embassy, his position is still endorsed by the Regime. Jo is the representative in Vienna for the Foreign Trade Bank (FTB) , a financial institution that was designated by the UN in 2017 for providing financial support to North Korea’s WMD programs.
A state-owned financial institution providing funding to fuel state-run WMD program – what a surprise.
FTB was established in 1959 and it has acted as the DPRK’s primary foreign exchange bank. FTB was sanctioned because it reportedly provided financial support to a number of other designated entities, including the Korea Kwangsong Banking Corporation (KKBC) and KOMID (North Korea’s main international arms trader). FTB was designated by OFAC in November 2013 and in August 2017 the UN followed suit and sanctioned it under Resolution 2371.
Cover companies and frozen money
Enter: Jo Kwang Chol…
Jo spent much of last year trying to get his hands on some Euros in a frozen bank account. The account in question was at Austria’s Meinl Bank AG, and it belonged to an FTB cover company called the Korea Ungum Corporation. Jo was trying to get the money out the account because the Austrian government froze it in 2012 after accusing Ungum of involvement in illegal money laundering. Jo was reportedly trying to get around this minor inconvenience by pretending to be an employee of Ungum and requesting that that a salary is transferred to him each year from Ungum’s Euro account for ‘services provided’. What these ‘services’ are we have no idea.
In our opinion Jo’s plan doesn’t really seem that well thought through. If we were him, we’d have another slice of the local sachertorte and try think up something else.
Diplomats & generators
Our second story relates to Paris: an equally nice place for a weekend away and an equally nice posting for a DPRK “diplomat”.
The diplomat in question is a long-time Paris-based official called Kim Chol Yong. Apparently he is stern man who takes his work very seriously at the DPRK’s Cultural Exchange Bureau. The 55 year old Kim (born 1st June 1964 according to paragraph 80 of the UNPOE report) has lived in France since 1989. In fact, as far as we can tell, Kim is the longest serving North Korean official in France. In that time, Kim has acted as the Regime’s procurement conduit in Europe – shipping anything from tons of toothpaste to heavy machinery.
Kim has been diligently taking orders from Pyongyang for years. Kim is named in the 2019 UNPOE report as being responsible for attempting to ship four generator units from China to the DPRK. According to the report, Kim took on a Chinese identity in order to move this equipment. The generators were seized by the Dutch authorities.
Pharmaceuticals for the elite
In 2017, the Regime’s 1217 Research Institute told Kim to buy huge volumes of pharmaceuticals, pill manufacturing materials, and toothpaste from China. Kim subsequently posed as a representative of the Potonggang Pharmaceutical Trading Company in order to obtain these requested goods – including Rivotril for anxiety attacks. Why is a research institute buying toothpaste?
Our source close to the deal discovered that Kim was also sourcing pharmaceuticals for Rakwon 929 Import Corporation. Rakwon is the trading arm of the Ponghwa Clinic in Pyongyang, which procures drugs for the North Korean elite. It would not take much thinking to conclude that all these drugs Kim is exporting are for the elites and not the Korean people who really need them.
Kim is the longest-standing “diplomat” in France, trusted with highly sensitive information about the DPRK Elites and their private medical needs. This, coupled with Kim’s wealth of experience in procurement and his network of contacts in France, must make him an asset to the DPRK diplomatic community in Paris. With this sort of trust, clearance, and respect among the diplomats, it is reasonable to think of what other roles Kim full fills. At PP, we would be highly surprised if DPRK Intelligence Agencies don’t make use of Kim’s contacts.
Kim’s activities in Paris over more than a decade have provided a huge amount of financial support to both the North Korean regime and its ballistic missile program. Maybe it’s time for him to say adieu to the city of light?