North Korean business deals with countries on the African continent is well documented and extensive. Pyongyang Papers has conducted several investigations looking at sanctions breaking in the region and this time we aim to shine a light on one country in particular – Nigeria

Nigeria relations

“Unity and Faith, Peace and Progress” – Nigeria’s national motto. Unfortunately, North Korea does not share any aspects of this motto and would rather disorder, betrayal, conflict and decline. Nigeria has the largest economy in Africa and formally established diplomatic relations with North Korea in 1976. In 2014, the two countries signed an economic cooperation agreement in the areas of knowledge exchange, information technology and public sector exchanges of modern technology. Both Nigeria and the DPRK maintain embassies in each other’s countries and as recently as 2022, the UN panel of experts were investigating information that suggested Nigeria were planning on purchasing $3.5 million worth of military equipment with the deal being brokered by the Haegumgang Trading Corporation. A weapons-trading entity belonging to the DPRK Ministry of People’s Armed Forces.

Current activity

Given Nigeria’s warm relationship with North Korea, it should come as no surprise that the DPRK regime continue to use the country as a means to generate revenue for their nuclear and ballistic weapons program.

One company that seems to feature quite heavily in Nigeria is Korea Chinson General Cooperation, who have been investigated in Nigeria previously. Pyongyang Papers have been made aware that UN sanctioned DPRK workers are working within blanket factories, tire factories, plastic bag factories and also a security company.

To add to this, our sources have also passed us a copy of a contract regarding a three year deal with a Lagos based company called Skynext Service Ltd to aid the construction and running of the Lagos rubber factory. The deal involves Chinson providing Skynext with a range of North Korean laborers including:

• Two structural design engineers
• Two interpreters
• Thirteen skills constructors
• Two heavy vehicle mechanics
• Twenty one rubber factory machinists

The contract is valid for three years and states it will be automatically renewed at the end of each three year period. We are still working to confirm the presence of the DPRK workers for Skynext as the contract also states “The parties further agreed to implement the contract … at a time when the global pandemic of COVID-19 has been resolved and the dispatch of experts from Chinson is possible. But will be valid until July 2023 at latest.” The contract was signed and dated by Mr Ibrahim Mohammed Musaddiq (representing Skynext) and Mr KO Yong Myong (representing Chinson) on 18th August 2022.

The contract lists the address for Skynext as 3 Avenue, Festac but our investigation suggests they may now be located at Commercial Road, Apapa in Lagos. Information regarding the company’s type of activity is limited but the contract and import information available online suggest they are in the manufacturing business. Pyongyang Papers reached out to Skynext directly for comment about their sanctioned activity but received no reply.

The future

With the North Korean borders beginning to open up it is highly likely that North Korean workers will begin moving around the globe again as DPRK companies look to fulfill contracts drafted during the pandemic, evade sanctions and raise funds to enable the regime to continue developing nuclear weapons. The contract between Skynext and Chinson proves that even when the North Korean border is sealed shut and ordinary citizens are believed to be starving, Kim Jong Un and the regime are still content to exploit ordinary DPRK citizens for their own despicable gains.

Pyongyang Papers aims to expose any sanctioned North Korean activity and relies on its sources. If you have any information in relation to this article or any other DPRK activity please get in touch through the ‘Contact Us’ page.

Despite UNSCR 2397 which prohibits North Korean citizens from working abroad, it is widely known that there is an extensive North Korean restaurant network continuing to fund the regime and its weapons program. With an estimated 130 North Korean state-run restaurants in big cities across the globe, Pyongyang Papers has already investigated several restaurants such as The Pyongyang Unhasu restaurant located in Phnom Penh, Big Sister Won’s restaurant located in Vientiane, along with a collection of restaurants in China.

Blue Flower Restaurant

NK News recently reported on the demise of the DPRK Restaurant industry in Cambodia. However, they name one business still operating who are downplaying any ties to the DPRK- the Blue Flower Restaurant and shop in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Pyongyang Papers can confirm that the Blue Flower Restaurant and shop is in fact owned and run by two North Koreans, Nam Un Gyong and her daughter Ri Son Chong.

The Blue Flower Restaurant and shop, as advertised on social media.

Restaurant workers

COVID-19 and the DPRK border closures halted the arrival of DPRK staff working at Blue Flower, and so Nam has had to hire some non-North Korean staff instead. It is well reported that North Korean workers abroad are subjected to poor living conditions, forced to give up their salaries and strictly controlled by their handlers. We wonder if these non-North Koreans treated as badly? Considering the state of most North Korean restaurants overseas, we can’t imagine that working at Blue Flower is much fun for these employees and we would encourage any worker or anyone who knows the workers to make contact with us to tell their side of the story.

The sanctions placed on DPRK have had a heavy toll on the North Korean economy, however due to non-compliance from several countries, North Korea still manage to illicitly source funding from overseas work. Although Cambodia has been a member state since 1955, the UN PoE have investigated North Koreans within their borders past the repatriation cut off in 2019. However in positive news, it now seems that the Cambodian authorities have requested that, due to UN Sanctions, Nam close the restaurant … we will of course keep a close eye on this to see if she complies!

Nam’s next venture

So what next for Nam and her daughter, will they return to the DPRK or remain in Cambodia and look to open another restaurant or other enterprises to earn revenue for the DPRK Regime? From our research, it appears Nam started a side business that sells fashion, sourced from Hong Kong. So even if the restaurant does appear closed, has she continued her side business too?! If anyone can get in contact with us at Pyongyang Papers about this shop, possibly located by the old Restaurant, we would be very interested in hearing from you.

Pyongyang Papers will continue looking in to the North Korean Restaurant industry and would like to uncover more truths around how they operate overseas. Any information you can share, please do get in contact.

June 24, 2022 was a day of significance as it marks the 48th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the DPRK and The Lao People’s Democratic Republic. The friendship and cooperation between the two countries was forged and deepened through historic summits of 1965 and 1970 between Kim Il Sung and leader of Lao people- Kaysone Phomvihane. Today, the DPRK government remain unchanged in their resolve to develop the relations of ‘friendship’ with Laos.

Pyongyang Papers asks the question, “does DPRK need Laos more than Laos needs DPRK?” We would suggest that the DPRK only need Laos as a money generator for the regime and therefore have no problem severing any ties if they do not get what they want i.e. money. So, is this true friendship?

North Korean restaurants in Laos

With easing of COVID-19 travel restrictions in Asia, people have been able to travel again. The backpacker trail is opening up with travelers seeking out new experiences.

Pyongyang Papers has been tipped off by a backpacker that restaurants in Laos are still operating using North Korean workers. Despite UN Security Council resolution 2397 requiring all Member States to repatriate, by December 22, 2019.

All North Korean entities (including restaurants) are supposed to have been closed down under UN sanctions which prevent North Korea from having overseas workers. It is well documented that North Korea exploit their citizens by sending them abroad to earn foreign currency which is then sent back to the hermit state. These restaurants are another example of this, and the money is certainly not for the good of the impoverished, starving people but more likely end up funding weapons of mass destruction.

Our backpacker found a very unusual dining option in Vientiane, 원언니식당 (Won Onni Sikdang) – which translates to Big Sister Won’s restaurant. This restaurant, conveniently located close to the DPRK Embassy in Vientiane, doesn’t offer Laos cuisine, but instead seems to be a North Korean restaurant and has multiple 5-star reviews on Google.

Google reviews of “Big Sister Won” restaurant confirm the restaurant has been operating in 2022.

So what’s in it for the DPRK regime? Sources confirm that the North Korean restaurant menu requests payment in US dollars and not Laotian Kip. This is another way that the DPRK can seek to launder its ill-gotten gains, and a source of foreign currency for the regime. We don’t believe that this is just a business set up by an enterprising North Korean expatriate. Any North Korean restaurant will certainly have to pay a retainer or fee to the DPRK embassy in Laos just in order to operate, which is forwarded onto the DPRK regime.

According to the 2022 UN Panel of Experts report, Big Sister Won’s restaurant is not the only North Korean restaurant believed to still be in operation in Laos. The UN report details four North Korean restaurants and one night market, including their locations and images, which appear to have continued to operate “even after the applicable measures towards the closure of the restaurants and repatriation were taken by the Laotian authorities in 2020”. This is a direct violation of the December 2019 United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2397.

Kumkangsan Restaurant

The UN report however does not mention Big Sister Won’s restaurant, it seems this one may have slipped under the radar somehow. Our sources have informed us of another North Korean restaurant in Vientiane; Kumkangsan Restaurant (ອາຫານ ຄຶ່ມກ່າງຊານ) on Asean Road, Sisavath Village, Vientiane. The Kumkangsan restaurant seems to have a shop attached- we wonder what they sell?

Social media post confirm Kumkangsan restaurant is in operation as of May 2022.

The latest UN Panel of Experts report states that Laotian authorities took action against the North Korean restaurants in 2020 but our investigation proves that more needs to be done to stop the regimes illicit activity in Laos. Pyongyang Papers is still investigating DPRK run restaurants in Laos and would like to hear from you if you have any further information on the entities named in this article or any other individuals and entities helping the North Korean regime avoid sanctions so that we can investigate further.

Pyongyang Papers has extensively reported on the topic of sanctioned DPRK citizens abroad, but it doesn’t seem to be improving as far as we can see.

Why are North Korean workers abroad a problem?

It not uncommon for people of all nationalities around the world to move and seek employment abroad for a range of different reasons including experiencing different cultures, a better quality of life and for financial gain. Unfortunately for North Korean citizens the situation is very different. Citizens of the DPRK are not afforded the luxury of the freedom to travel abroad unless the regime requires them to do so and that requirement is usually to make money for the regime!

Since 2017, all UN member states have been prohibited from providing work authorizations for DPRK nationals in their countries as well as ensuring that any present North Korean workers were repatriated by the end of 2019. The resolution was introduced to try and stem the flow of foreign currency heading back to the regime in support of its nuclear and ballistic weapons program and to stop the exploitation of North Korean citizens who are not protected by labor laws and often have their human rights easily violated.

An ongoing issue

There continues to be regular reports of North Korean workers being sent abroad with the ongoing pandemic around the world being used as a reason for not being able to repatriate those already abroad. The latest UN Panel of Experts report documents several instances of overseas workers still earning currency in China, Equatorial Guinea, Lao, Russia and Vietnam across a variety of different industries including construction, clothing, IT and the restaurant trade.

The majority of overseas workers are believed to be in China and Russia. Given the historical ties between the 3 countries, the shared border offering easy transit during non-pandemic times and North Korea labor costing half as much as native labor this may not be a huge surprise. Worryingly the attitude of China and Russia, who both claim to faithfully implement the UN sanctions, can be easily determined from their replies to the UN Panel’s requests.

For example, when questioned about entities using DPRK labor, China responded “The companies mentioned in the Panels letter only have the English and Korean names. Since China’s business registration system uses only Chinese language, we cannot conduct comparison and verification, and if the Panel requires China to verify every time it gets some new information, it will be a huge burden of work. It is also by no means the obligation of the Chinese government”.

China’s response to using DPRK labor, UN PoE report S/2022/132

Korea 51 Trading Corporation

China may not care, but Pyongyang Papers does! We have been informed that the DPRK company, Korea 51 Trading Corporation are looking to renew labor contracts for the next 10-years. Korea 51 Trading Corporation appeared in the August 2020 Panel of Experts report for sending 292 DPRK nationals in January 2020 and 190 in August 2019 to work for a clothing comoany called Dandong Manch’o’p Clothing Cooperative Ltd. The panel noted that Korea 51 may be using a different name. As part of the contract we have been made aware of, 900 North Korean laborers will be sent to two Chinese corporations– we have been informed that one of the corporations to receive the laborers are China Yanbian Jinyang Industry Co., Ltd (延边金洋实业有限公司).

Yanbian Jinyang Industry Co., Ltd are a company located in Kaishantun Town, Longjing City, Yanbian Prefecture, directly next to the DPRK border. The company is involved in many different businesses according to listings online including contracting, construction, mechanical processing, chemicals, metals, glass and processing and sales of clothing. The executive director listed as Li Yang (李洋). In addition to the 900 North Korean laborers, another 1,000 workers already in the area of Longjing would be transferred to work for the Chinese corporation.

The labor market

Recent reports suggest that the labor market has tightened recently due to the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic as demand for workers increases. A recent radio free Asia article reports on North Korean placement officials demanding more money and incentives which in turn leads to potentially even more money for the regime.

China are not the only country that is still breaking UN sanctions. During our investigation we have come across more information about a contract whereby UN sanctioned DPRK laborers would be working in the clothing industry in Nigeria. It appaers that The DPRK Nigerian Representative Office of an entity named Chinson General Co., Ltd and a Nigerian clothing manufacturing company called Purple Firm located in Lagos, are working on a 3-year labor contract. Details are very limited but Pyongyang Papers will continue to explore and expose any additional details we uncover.

Stopping the problem

Instances of North Koreans working abroad to fund the regime are easy to find and our investigation proves that the problem isn’t going to be resolved anytime soon. Countries like China use poor excuses to avoid thoroughly investigating evidence that suggests sanctions breaking activity is happening within their borders. Until all members of the UN unite and enforce the resolutions they have agreed to then the DPRK regime will continue to make large sums of money by exploiting its own citizens.

As always, if you have any information on sanctioned North Korean activity please get in touch with Pyongyang Papers.

Information given to Pyongyang Papers indicates that in excess of 350 sanctioned DPRK workers and their families are still residing in Republic of Congo (ROC), despite UN sanctions.

Since 2006, the UN Security Council has passed a number of sanctions to try and deter North Korea from continually developing and testing their nuclear & ballistic weapons, money laundering, cyber attacks and human rights violations. These sanctions have had a heavy toll on North Korea’s economy but have been undermined by failure of some countries to enforce them, and in some cases break them.

Africa relationship

Historically, North Korea helped Africa in condemning the European colonialism in Africa by providing military and civil support in revolutionary movements across the continent and in return were successful in making sure South Korea couldn’t join the Non-aligned Movement, the largest grouping of states outside of the UN. Since then, North Korea and Africa have maintained a close relationship to achieve political goals, even if it means Africa is undermining UN sanctions!

The presidential palace in Windhoek is one of many monuments in Africa designed and constructed by North Korea.

Republic of Congo

Pyongyang Papers has been informed of trouble for two North Korean doctors contracted to a local government hospital in the Republic of Congo by the DPRK Ministry of Public Health. This is not the first time that Pyongyang Papers has reported on North Korean doctors illegally working in the ROC, and it seems clear they show no signs of stopping.

The doctors were severely reprimanded by the manager from the DPRK Ministry of Public Health representative office located in the Republic of Congo. The reprimand was due to misconduct involving illegally selling traditional oriental medicine, known as Koryo medicine, at local governmental hospitals as well as openly fighting each other over who would treat patients!

Korea Moranbong Medical Cooperation Center

An organization who consistently appear to be involved in sanction evasion activity is the Korea Moranbong Medical Cooperation Center. Pyongyang Papers have already shed light on their previous involvement in brokering deals to facilitate North Korean doctors working in Africa. You can read more about Moranbong activities in our articles ‘DPRK doctors operate around sanctions‘ and ‘North Korean doctors remain in Africa

A representative of the Korea Moranbong Medical Cooperation Center in the Republic of Congo has made a request to the authorities of Congo for a visa extension for two doctors located in a joint DPRK-Congo medical clinic located in the market area of Pointe-Noire. We are still currently looking into the visa extension request to see if there are anything else we can uncover!

Pyongyang Papers have also been made aware that officials from DPRK and Republic of Congo have been in discussions and have agreed to issue residency visas to 38 DPRK laborers.

Some progress?

In better news, Pyongyang Papers have found out that not all African countries are so relaxed about breaking UN sanctions placed on North Korea. Chad is a landlocked country at the center of Africa that has a strong relationship with the US who established diplomatic relations with in 1960 after Chad’s independence from France.

Pyongyang Papers has recently been informed that the Government of Chad have postponed a contract with a Chad based company called Groupe Awlad Abdelmouti due to concerns over the current sanction’s situation. Awlad Abdelmouti is a deign and engineering company based in the capital of Chad, N’Djamena. The company is involved in architecture and building projects. They also operate in the trade industry and appear to sell hardware and building materials and order some of their products from Turkey.

Groupe Awlad Abdelmouti had been contracted by Presidential Department of Chad to construct the Martyr’s Museum, which in itself isn’t the problem, the problem is that the company is using sanctioned DPRK laborers.

This is good news and shows that there are serious attempts to stamp out sanctions evasion involving the DPRK. If Africa were to stand united and follow in Chads footsteps then maybe some real progress would be made in bringing much need stability to the region and help end Kim Jong Un’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. If you have any information relating to sanctions evasion by the DPRK please contact Pyongyang Papers!

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!

Diplomatic relations between the Soviet Union (the predecessor state to the Russian Federation) and North Korea date back to 1948, shortly after the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was proclaimed. The relationship between the two countries continued even after the fall of the Soviet Union, with it gaining further importance when Vladimir Putin was elected President of Russia in 2000.

In the late 1940s, roughly 9,000 North Korean migrant workers were recruited by the Soviet government to work in state-owned fisheries on Sakhalin, with a further 25,000 workers following suit in the 1950s. A secret agreement between country rulers (Leonid Brezhnev and Kim Il Sung) saw a second wave in the 1960s, consisting mainly of criminals or political prisoners. The flow of workers from North Korea to Sakhalin continues to this day, as reported in our previous article.

By the mid-2000s, masses of North Koreans were still entering Russia on work visas to try to escape their poverty-stricken homeland. Often compared to slave labor by outsiders due to the relentless working hours and poor living conditions, on the contrary North Koreans view the chance to work in Russia as a lifeline for both themselves and their families.

Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin meet for the first time in 2019 in Vladivostock

Slave labor?

According to Russia’s labor ministry, North Koreans are paid on average $415 per month, 40% less than the average salary in Russia. With recent reports suggesting a sudden hike, up to 70% of these wages earned by the workers are reportedly seized as ‘loyalty payments’ by the regime, to help prop up the government and its falling economy. This leaves the workers with even less money than usual to cover their living costs and to help support their families back home. However, due to the prestige and limited opportunity for North Korean citizens to improve their quality of life in the DPRK, it is impossible to find a job in Russia without paying a bribe, meaning it is often the more affluent Pyongyang citizens who get the opportunities to work overseas, with the underprivileged remaining poor with no means to better their future.

According to Ministry of Labor statistics, more than 85% of North Korean migrants work in construction. The rest are involved in a range of jobs from garment wok and agriculture, to logging, catering and traditional medicine.

Sanction evasion

However, Kin Jong Un’s persistent refusal to stop its nuclear testing program resulted in enforced UN International sanctions in September 2017 ensuing an embargo on the use of North Korean labor.

Unsurprisingly, in recent years Moscow and Beijing have appealed unsuccessfully to the member states of the UN to overturn the sanctions, in the hope to reignite the steady flow of migrant workers into both countries. Russia admitted missing the repatriation deadline, and here at Pyongyang Papers we know that Moscow’s claims of complying with the embargo are not wholly true- instead North Koreans continue to enter Russia to work via a loophole.

As North Korean’s on worker’s visas leave Russia, more enter on tourism and education visas, which aren’t banned by sanctions. During the first 9 months of 2019, 12834 tourist visas and 7162 student visas were issued to North Koreans, each rising about six-fold and three-fold respectively from a year earlier, according to Russian government data. With experts concluding that many of these visitors are likely working in Russia.

Students or construction workers?

A recent Pyongyang Papers investigation has revealed that a Moscow-based construction company was planning on receiving at least 100 student trainees to work on Moscow build projects.

BS Installation, LLC was founded in 2017 as a construction company with many projects under its belt. Also, plans are being discussed on sending student trainees to work on Moscow build projects for practical training.

Pyongyang Papers believes that Pyongyang will select the first group of 100 student trainees to arrive in Russia to work on projects in and around the Moscow area, following agreement between Russia’s SitiStroyProyekt, LLC, (СитиСтройПроект) an architectural planning company whose activities consist of engineering design and construction project management based in St Petersburg, and DPRK General Construction Company “Pyongyang” (Pyongyang). The agreement is believed to last until mid-2023.

Pyongyang Papers understand that this is based on a 2007 agreement between Russia and North Korea for temporary labor of the citizens of one government in the territory of the other to improve North Korean students’ professional skills whilst ‘studying’ in Russia.

Turning a blind eye

It seems the DPRK continue to ignore the UN sanctions enforced against them. Possibly partly to fund an ambitious building project under Kim Jong Un’s direction. Kim Jong Un promised in January to alleviate the capital’s housing shortage with 50,000 new homes by the end of 2025, including 10,000 in 2021 at the ruling Korean Workers’ Party.

It appears Russia is trying to turn a blind eye to the North Korean workers that continue to work in their country, but what will become of the regimes ballistic missile plans should we all continue to ignore the DPRK’s actions. Pyongyang Papers pledge to continue to highlight both countries and companies enabling sanction violations- as always please contact us if you have any information.

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.

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

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.


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.