The DPRK are well known for their dishonest, provocative and non-conforming nature. So its comes as no surprise that when Russia invaded Ukraine, a decision condemned by the world, Kim Jong Un publicly declared his support for Moscow.

Pyongyang Papers have been made aware of another sanctioned DPRK labor deal involving construction workers in Russia. This is not the first time we have investigated a deal of this nature – you can read our previous article here.

Perhaps surprisingly, Russia and North Korea have never had significant relationship. The DPRK is economically dependent on China, which currently accounts for over 90 percent of its total trade volume as well as most food and energy imports. Despite this economic dependence there is reportedly deep distrust between the two nations. China’s attempts to assert dominance over North Korea along with the North Korean regimes efforts to guard against Chinese influence have long generated tension between the two countries. Russia’s stance has always been to follow China’s lead, supporting the DPRK when they do, not supporting them when they don’t.

Pyongyang & Moscow

However, Russia needs help in the form of weapons. The EU have imposed unprecedented sanctions against Russia in response to the war of aggression against Ukraine. These sanctions include visa measures, individual sanctions and economic sanctions including huge restrictions on the imports and exports between the EU and Russia. Which is why Russia is seeking an allegiance with the DPRK. The DPRK welcome this allegiance with open arms as it provides many benefits. Not only will a weapons deal with Russia help boost the ever flailing economy … it will also further antagonize the fraught tensions with the western world. A great result for Kim Jong Un!

In August 2023, Kim made the promise in a letter to Vladimir Putin that relations will be ‘further developed into a long standing strategic relationship’. He also went on to state the two countries are ‘fully demonstrating their invincibility and might in their struggle against imperialists’. This letter was followed by the recent summit held in Russia and was attended by Kim. Washington have warned Pyongyang against sending weapons to Russia, as this would violate UN sanctions that prevent arms shipments to and from North Korea – but breaking sanctions comes naturally to North Korea as we have seen on countless previous occasions.

Construction workers to Russia?

Our current investigation involves the DPRK Korea Sungri Chonji Trading Corporation and the Russia based KSK-Stroy Limited Liability Company (ООО КСК СТРОЙ) for the supply of 200 North Korean construction workers to Vladivostok and Khabarovsk, Russia.

KSK-Stroy is a construction company that appears to have addresses all over Russia, with each location specializing in different construction types. The Khabarovsk KSK-Stroy’s activity appears to be mainly based on the construction of roads and highways and the Vladivostok company’s activity is engineering communications for water, sanitation and gas supply.

North Korean construction workers

Our sources have also found that the Russia firm ANO Digital Platform solicited a substantial number of North Korean laborers for construction projects in Moscow. Arseniy Shcheltsin is the CEO of ANO Digital Platform and this is not the first time he has been involved in something suspicious having previously been at the center of a scandal involving internet campaigning for the party in power. Pyongyang Papers wonders what use Shcheltsin could have for construction workers with his digital background?

Pyongyang Papers knows that nothing good can come from an alliance between two power hungry dictators such as Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin who prioritize their own political desires over the needs of their imprisoned citizens. We must unite to rid the world of their intolerable reign. Please contact Pyongyang Papers if you have any additional information on the companies listed in this article.

North Korean officials based overseas continue to break UN sanctions by brokering and facilitating deals, earning commision, so they can funnel money back to the regime and fund its nuclear weapons programme. UN Resolution 2270 states that all memeber 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, brokering deals is not a new money making scheme for the North Koreans- Pyongyang Papers have previously reported on illict deals facilitated by North Korean officials which you can read here. This time we are investigating a deal involving the brokering of oil between Russia and China.


DPRK acting as the middleman between two countries

Our sources have informed us that DPRK representatives based in Russia, are acting as middlemen to broker a deal for PRC-based company Yao He San Cai Petrifaction Limited for the purchase of Russian diesel fuel from Russian-based LLC RN-Komsomolsky Oil Refinery (RN-KNPZ). The deal is agreed for an initial time of 12 months with extensions. RN-KNPZ is located in Komsomolsk-On-Amur, Khabarovsk territory, which is near to the China-Russia border. Specializing in motor fuel and aviation kerosene, the plant was put into operation in 1942 under the integrated structure of Rosneft Oil Company and its crude distillation refinery capacity equals 46.9 million barrels per year.

LLC RN-Komsomolsk Refinery is the largest producer of oil and gas in the Samara region of Russia and the second largest Rosneft production unit after Yuganskneftegaz.


The North Koreans aren’t the only ones suffering the consequences of sanctions, LLC RN-Komsomolsky Oil Refinery has also been sanctioned by the Office of Foreign Assets Control amidst the Russian invasion on Ukraine.

Oil Imports


Chinese imports of Russian oil hit their highest level in May since the Ukraine invasion started in 2022. This could be down to the sanctions put on Russia and their import of oil is forcing them to sell for cheaper, or the fact that Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin pledged to boost trade to $200 billion in 2023 when they hailed their no limits partnership. As previously reported by Pyongyang Papers, we all know that China doesn’t shy away from sanction breaking activities. The PRC based company, also known as Yaohe Sancai Petrochemical (Shandong) Co. Ltd, has the address of Room 202, office building No. 819, Tuanjie Road, Qingdao area, China (Shandong) and appears to own a gas station on Yucai Road, Linyi City. With no obvious presence online, this company has a capital of $586 million and its president, Chen Dan, is linked to 7 other companies! We wonder if any of these other companies are breaking sanctions too?


Why use these middle men?

North Korean intermediaries, or middle men, have played a key role in the facilitation of oil deals between Russia and China to provide a bridge between the finances. DPRK representatives are busier than ever and with Russian oil being cheaper, it helps to compensate using them – so a win for all of those involved. Although the North Korean intermediaries would probably be losing all their income to the Regime back in their homeland funding the WMD programme! Using these middle men also means that these deals can go under the radar as there wouldn’t be any direct communication between them. Making it easier to get away with!
If you know any more about this deal or the companies involved, please do get in contact with Pyongyang Papers. We are always very appreciative of any information our followers can provide us.

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.

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.

Since 2017, The United Nations has listed coal amongst the goods and services sanctioned against the DPRK. The Security Council decided the “DPRK shall not supply, sell or transfer, directly or indirectly from its territory any coal“. The resolutions also state “All states shall prohibit the procurement of such material from the DPRK”.

Despite sanctions the DPRK have continued to trade coal illicitly. This has been done through a network of illegal overseas business transactions and deceptive maritime ship-to-ship transfers with states who are willing to assist in sanction breaking activity.

Foreign currency

As reported previously, coal is North Korea’s major export and foreign currency earner. Most of North Korea’s coal is exported through China in a clear breach of UN sanctions. Estimates for DPRK coal reserves at around 4.5 billion tonnes worth in the region of $600 billion.

According to UN report in 2020, North Korea exported 3.7 million metric tons of coal between January & August 2019 despite sanctions, with estimated earnings of $370 million through these exports. However, exports did drop during the COVID-19 pandemic as North Korea closed its borders to slow the spread of the virus, having resumed again since. It has been reported that the DPRK exported several dozen shipments of illegal coal to Chinese waters and ports between September 2020 and October 2021, data and satellite imagery sourced to an unspecified UN member state indicated in the report.

According to a DailyNK report, coal mines in DPRK were ordered to engage in a week long campaign in February to generate foreign currency, scrambling coal to the port of Nampo for export. Although DPRK has an abundance of coal for burning, it is known that DPRK does not have any reserves of coking coal which is used mainly in iron ore smelting for making steel, the hermit state has a long history of importing this commodity. For a long time the DPRK has been trying to develop its own technology to produce coking coal from its own anthracite. if only it was that easy!

Coking Coal?

Although the DPRK has no coking coal, it does have substantial reserves of anthracite in the city of Anju and other areas of production. So where and how do the DPRK regime get their coking coal if they don’t have any? Pyongyang Papers has been investigating a Mongolian based company named Hanne Ulaan LLC who we believe to be involved.

It appears we aren’t the only ones to have looked into this company, according to the 2021 UN report, Choi Chon Gon (Mr. Choi) is a resident of the Russian federation and traveled to Mongolia in January 2019 for the purpose of setting up Hanne Ulaan LLC. Following the Mongolian investigations, it was noted that the company’s registration documentation was forwarded to an address in Moscow that matches that of the embassy of the DPRK. Subsequently, Hanne Ulaan LLC has been identified as a DPRK front company for the purpose of evading sanctions and was subject to frozen bank accounts by the Mongolian authorities.

Russian & Bulgarian involvement

Through Pyongyang Papers sources, we understand that Choi Chon Gon the general director of Mongolia-based Hanne Ulaan LLC worked with a Bulgarian based company named StaCom Inc. Ltd to purchase Russia-origin coking coal worth millions of dollars. Enabling the regime to produce steel, likely for their weapons program and the construction industry. StaCom Inc. Ltd is an exporter of coal, coke & petroleum products and have been trading since 1990. Stayko Georgiev Staykov is listed as the manager of StaCom Inc. Ltd with the company name appearing to change several times since 1990. Its clear StaCom place profit margins above the UN’s desire to stop the regimes ambitions for global instability. Even though the companies Bulgarian registry listing states they “trade in coal and coke, as well as any other activity with goods and services not prohibited by law.”

We believe that Mr. Choi is an associate of an individual named So Myong, a Hanne Ulaan, LLC representative located at the DPRK consulate in Vladivostok, Russia, involved with large deliveries of coking coal. There remains the question of how the commodity makes its way to DPRK, it is known that this is done through ship to ship transfers and we suspect that the port of Posyet may be used for loading the product before it makes its journey towards North Korea. Posyet port is conveniently located just north of the North Korea-Russia border on the east coast, making logistics fairly straightforward.

Posyet Port, Russia.

China

As Pyongyang Papers has previously mentioned, China remains one of the DPRK’s key allies in illicit trade deals. It has been reported that China is currently experiencing coal shortages due to a reduction in imports and decreased domestic production. The DPRK are all too willing to aid their energy-hungry neighbor and continue to export coal across the border.

When investigating Hanne Ulaan, LLC, Pyongyang Papers came across additional illicit activity in Mongolia. We have found that a likely DPRK front company named Uran Tech LLC, located in Mongolia, is to sell 50,000 metric tons of coal to the Dandong based Chinese trading corporation China Dandong Jinquan Import and Export Trading Co., Ltd. (丹东金泉进出口贸易有限公司). Dandong is the largest Chinese border city located on the western border of North Korea, facing Sinuiju, North Korea, with the two cities connected by the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge. It is hardly a surprise that this would be likely location for cooperation between DPRK and China and we have previously reported on the use of Dandong in many illicit DPRK-China trade deals. The Mongolia-based North Korean official Han Cho’ng-kyu is to share commission with a Chinese business partner Tian Mingxing on the deal which is worth nearly $3 million.

What it all burns down to?

Pyongyang Papers investigations once again show how the regime continue to prevail in their sanction breaking activity. There is no doubt that what has been highlighted above is only a small portion of the overall activity and with so much revenue generated, the regime will not be burning out any time soon. It remains a sad and desperate image of the regime as they continue to focus on fueling their weapons program rather than looking after the health & prosperity of their people. Especially as recent reports from the regime have confirmed a surge in potential COVID-19 cases. Pyongyang Papers will continue to highlight the illegal activity involving the DPRK. If you have any information related to this activity that could expose the DPRK, please do contact us.

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.

Oil is an essential commodity to any country including North Korea. Crude and refined oils is heavily used in all aspects of industry including agriculture and energy production. North Korea has access to very little of its own oil reserves currently so it relies on imports of oil to be refined at places like the Ponghwa Chemical Factory. Since 2017 oil imports to North Korea have been sanctioned to 500,000 barrels a year by the UN because of the DPRK’s continued pursuit of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons.

Considering previous form of sanction evasion by North Korea, unsurprisingly, earlier this year reports surfaced suggesting that the North Korean regime had breached its cap on oil imports. In July 2020, a letter to the UN Security Council suggested that North Korea imported more than 1.6 million barrels of oil in the first 5 months of 2020 alone!

Good news

In October 2017 a Russian oil company NNK-Primornefteprodukt was placed under US sanctions for its oil business dealings with North Korea. The company, a subsidiary of the Independent Petroleum Company (IPC) had reportedly shipped over $1 million worth of petroleum products to North Korea at the time. The company and its subsidiaries were removed from the sanctions list in March 2020 because the company had guaranteed it was no longer working with North Korea.

The NNK-Primornefteprodukt facility in Vladivostok, Russia

Return to form

Unfortunately the lure of money has proved too much for NNK-Primornefteprodukt. A source close to the company, who declined to be named, has informed Pyongyang Papers that NNK-Primornefteprodukt have, as recent as June this year, started shipping oil back to the DPRK. Our investigation suggests NNK-Primornefteprodukt were the company shipping the oil and were using the Cameroon-flagged tanker “Gold Star”. The cargo was loaded from the NNK facility in Vladivostok, Russia and a few days later rendezvoused with a sanctioned DPRK tanker “Yu Son” and performed a ship to ship transfer.

The Yu Son tanker

The signs are worrying. The latest UN Panel of Experts report states “the DPRK increased procurement , including through a notable increase in these larger foreign flagged tankers directly delivering to the country on multiple occasions”. If companies like NNK-Primornefteprodukt are willing to deal with the DPRK so soon after being removed from the sanctions list, Pyongyang Papers wonders is there any way to stop companies dealing with North Korea and the DPRK breaching sanctions on oil imports? If you have any information on evading the DPRK sanctions, please contact us.

Pyongyang Papers have been investigating lawsuits that North Korean workers are still being sent abroad in large numbers to, among other countries, Russia. VOA has disclosed similar lawsuits in the February article. Our investigation has found that a North Korean company was arranging a contract with a Russian company in late October 2019 to send 50 North Korean workers to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Russia.

Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk is a city and an administrative center of the island of Sakhalin in the far east of Russia. It is most famous for its gas reserves and remaining Japanese architecture. The Russian company in question is Realssuttroy Limited Liability Company. Located at number 28, 4th Zarechnaya Street, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. +79621238585. Unfortunately, the images available on Yandex don’t seem to offer many clues to current employment at the location.

DPRK Labor

DPRK Moksong Foreign Construction and Economic Technology Cooperation Agency developed the contract with Realssuttroy Limited Liability Company. The contract authorized Moksong to send 50 North Korean workers to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk to work in the seafood industry. Pyongyang Papers wonder if this is because of widespread illegal fishing in North Korean waters by the Chinese.

The December deadline to evict North Korean workers has long since passed. Pyongyang Papers wonder if the workers are still in Russia? And if they are using tourist or student visas as this seems to be the current trend. The Reuters article disclosed that Russia issued the 16,613 student and 10,345 tourist visas last year. Compared to 2,035 student visas and 2,610 tourist visas granted to North Koreans in 2018.

If you have any information on evading the DPRK sanctions, please contact us.

DPRK Laborers

With the UN Security Council’s repatriation deadline well past in December 2019, many countries around the world have sent DPRK workers back to North Korea. The North Korean regime, which makes millions of dollars in funds generated by workers overseas, is of course seeking ways around this. One way is through the use of student visas.

A familiar face

The DPRK has been attempting to send huge numbers of workers into Russia using educational visas, to work in construction, IT and clothing production. Remember Jong Song Hwa? Jong featured in our previous article about Vladivostok. Pyongyang Papers has received information that Jong has used educational visas to sneak IT workers into Russia. In fact, according to the latest UN Panel of Experts report, Russia issued 3,611 more student visas to DPRK nationals in third quarter 2019 than in the same period in 2017. From first to third quarter 2017, 162 DPRK national received Russian student visas. The figure for the same period in 2019 was 7,162!

Russian help

Pyongyang Papers has also learned that other workers have obtained educational visas at the invitation of Russian firms. An immigration specialist that wishes to be anonymous informed PP that a North Korean company allegedly acquired documents for its employees that included Russian student visas and student ID cards issued by the European Institute JUSTO. As well as a contract for a field training class for the JUSTO students with the Russian companies Stroy Service LLC and Stroygrand 71 LLC which indicated that the students would be used as labor.

Poor Russia, it has been put in a difficult place. It has been trying to appear compliant with UN sanctions on Pyongyang but stated that efforts to repatriate the remaining DPRK laborers have stalled due to the coronavirus outbreak. At the same time Russia has been doing a fair amount for North Korea recently and has sought to continue its labor cooperation with DPRK.

Vladivostok! For those of us lucky enough to live in sunnier parts of the world it doesn’t sound like a dream destination. Maybe were biased here at Pyongyang Papers, but Vladivostok makes us think of dreary Russian icebreakers, cold wind and rusted fishing boats.

For North Koreans though, Vladivostok must be seen differently. Is it their land of plenty? Is it their paradise for earning money away from the sight of the international community? It must be. What else would explain the fact that so many North Koreans have moved to Vladivostok to set up their businesses.

We will come on to an interesting exclusive concerning a sanctioned company called China Silver Star. But firstly, why are there so many North Koreans in Vladivostok?

What we already know

Were not the only ones to have asked this question. NK News recently wrote a series of informative articles showing the North Korean presence in Vladivostok. While the numbers are difficult to confirm, Andrei Lankov from NK News suggests that between 15 and 20 North Korean companies have a permanent presence in the city. Lankov also suggests that there are around 10,000 North Korean laborers employed in the area, each earning between $500-900 per month to send back to the regime.

Obviously these North Korean laborers have to eat (and pay some taxes) but even at a low estimate of earnings this is something in the region of $50 million of revenue for the regime. That’s some decent income for buying more nuclear and ballistic missile parts. Al Jazeera’s 101 East recently published a documentary following the trail of North Korea’s secret money. North Korean workers are perceived as hard working, diligent and low-cost. Its no wonder they are popular with Russian employers. But then again, using slave labor has always been cheaper than paying people properly for doing a job.

NK News also reports how North Koreans have used the ports and airport to illegally move cash in defiance of international sanctions. In November 2018 a DPRK citizen was caught at Vladivostok airport trying to board an Air Koryo flight with with $192,300 in a shoe box. In October 2018, another DPRK citizen was caught with $180,000 – this time at the Pervomaisky customs post, having just got off from a cargo ship. While these two smugglers were caught by the authorities, these transfers are likely to be only the tip of the iceberg of illegal cash movements across the DPRK/Russia border.

Pyongyang Papers spoke to an employee at Vladivostok airport on condition of being anonymous who was able to confirm some of these stories. She said that security for DPRK flights was extremely loose and there did not seem to be much control of what came in or out on the regular Air Koryo flights: “you often see the North Koreans returning to their country loading their own bags onto the luggage conveyors or pushing through and around the security barriers” she said. That’s not ideal behavior when the rest of the world is trying hard to prevent the DPRK regime from earning foreign currency for the missile program or from buying luxury goods for the rich elites.

It seems that Russian enforcement of UN sanctions against DPRK commercial activity in Vladivostok has been a bit relaxed, to say the least. Or, as an article on the Arms Control Wonk blog puts it – it “leaves much to be desired”.

There seem to be systematic abuses going on. Alongside the large movement of money and the large scale employment of North Korean slave laborers, there as also several companies located in and working out of the DPRK embassy in Vladivostok. The same Arms Control Wonk article highlights at least three companies that are located in the embassy. If confirmed, this would be in clear violation of both UNSCR 2375 (2017) and UNSCR 2321 (2016), which bars DPRK diplomats from engaging in business.

So what else is going on in Vladivostok that hasn’t been noticed yet? Probably quite a lot! And this takes us back to China Silver Star.

From PP’s own conversations with Vladivostok locals we do have one new piece of information to add to the growing pile. This relates to a certain individual called Jong Song Hwa. Jong has been spotted a few times at the airport in Vladivostok and, according to our source, seems to have made himself quite at home in the city in recent months.

Why should we care?

Well, Jong is the CEO of an IT company called China Silver Star, aka the Yanbian Silverstar Network Technology Co. Ltd. China Silver Star reportedly earned millions in collaborative IT projects in China using North Korean workers, often disguising their true nationality from project partners. The common image of North Korean laborers hauling brick on a building site for low pay is still true, but these days they are just as likely to be sat behind a keyboard, advertising their IT services under false names and nationality on freelance sites like Upwork.

As a result of this activity, Silver Star was sanctioned by the US Treasury in September 2018 for “generating revenue for the Government of North Korea … that contributes to North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs”. Jong Song Hwa, as the CEO, was sanctioned and named in the OFAC listing alongside his company.

Clearly business must have become a bit tough for Jong in China following the OFAC sanctions so hes moved to Vladivostok. Maybe hes there to see some rusted fishing boats on a well-earned holiday? It doesn’t seem likely! Silver Star already has a sister company office on Ulitsa Klary Tsetskin in Vladivostok, known as “Volasys Silver Star“. Isn’t that convenient for Jong? It looks like hes decided to take his team of sanctioned IT workers with him from China to Russia and to begin his work again – motivated by the fresh sea air and bracing Russian climate.

As its probably the only place to get a snack near the Volasys Silver Star office we wouldn’t be surprised if Jong hangs out at the Pit Stop cafe by Klary Tsetskin (not sure who burned down the nearby pool hall). If you are stopping at the Pit Stop for a drink, keep an eye out for any Volasys Silver Star staff, and give them a friendly wave from all of us here at Pyongyang Papers.