It seems that DPRK medical staff are still trading in Africa, this time in Ghana! Partnerships have been formed between Ghanaian & DPRK countries with the knowledge of the Ghanaian Government. Specifically, the Ghanaian Ministry of Health, who are aware of the illicit dealings.

The long-standing relationships between North Korea and many African countries is well known. From the Zimbabwean leader Mugabe sending gifts of live rhinos to Pyongyang, to Uganda’s Museveni learning Korean from Kim Jong Un’s grandfather. Over time, these relationships seem to have grown with North Korea providing weapons, soldiers, labor and completing ambitious construction projects for many African countries.

The recent United Nations Panel of Experts report notes that there is a significant and ongoing financial activity related to the illicit labor networks in sub-Saharan Africa. It’s clear the DPRK haven’t learnt a lesson from the imposed sanctions! There has been an extremely high number of African countries reporting late to the UN or not at all. This is despite sanctions and an obligation to report effects to enforce them. The reasons behind this may be innocent but it seems likely that it is down to the difficulty in hiding these exchanges that continue to exist between Africa and the DPRK. As of 2016, only 15 percent of African UN members were complying with reporting requirements so the UN investigated the possible sanctions violations by 7 African countries.

DPRK workers in Ghana

While investigating DPRK workers in Africa, Pyongyang Papers has found information surrounding a partnership between Ghana and the DPRK. While countries like Angola cooperated with the UN sanctions and repatriated 296 DPRK nationals, Ghana seem to be aware of and is encouraging sanctions breaking behavior. Given that Ghana and the DPRK have maintained diplomatic relations since 1964 it is hardly surprising that the countries are willing to work together to avoid sanctions!

Pyongyang Papers has discovered that a partnership has been agreed between Buhung Traditional Medical Centre, which lists Ri So’ng il as its director and the Prestige Herbal Clinic. The Prestige Herbal Clinic based in the Amasaman area of Accra, Ghana and offers alternative medicinal treatment for a range of ailments using herbal, massage and detoxification techniques. The CEO is listed as Mr Van Klu and Prestige Herbal Clinic claim to have access to specialist herbal practitioners with years of experience and in-house laboratory. Pyongyang Papers contacted Prestige Herbal Clinic for comment, at the time of publication we had not received a response.

The Prestige Herbal Clinic based in the Amasaman area of Accra, Ghana

Pyongyang Papers has also been informed that Pak Kwang-hyo’k, a representative of the DPRK Korea Moranbong Medical Cooperation Centre was involved in brokering the deal with the knowledge of the Ghanaian Ministry of Health. Pyongyang papers has come across the Moranbong Medical Cooperation Centre previously when investigating DPRK doctors in Africa.

As Pyongyang Papers has previously highlighted, there have been many issues with north Korean medical staff working in Africa. These low paid and sometimes poorly trained medical staff from the DPRK have been involved in incidents of malpractice and even subjecting patients to illegal procedures. The humanitarian situation in the DPRK is dire and does not seem to be getting better. The most recent Panel of Experts report claims that the DPRK prioritizes the regime over national priorities that include food security, health and medical services. Instead of addressing the problems in their own county the DPRK is sending its medical staff to other countries and aiding them. Ghana owns one of the most developed medical and healthcare systems in Africa… Pyongyang papers wants to know why is Ghana hiring DPRK medical staff if they are already capable?

The future of sanctions evasion

There would be implications on Ghana, and other African countries if they don’t comply with the sanctions imposed on North Korea. If other UN member states decide that African countries are not enforcing sanctions on DPRK, could their aid and other economic support be re-evaluated? The unilateral backing of the sanctions against DPRK is important to make sure they discourage the regime which is still engaging in human rights violations, ignoring their citizens in desperate need of basic provisions and actively pursuing nuclear programs with money earned abroad illicitly.

If you have any information relating to sanctions evasion by the DPRK then please contact 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

Lom̩ РTogo

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.