Unfortunately, here at Pyongyang Papers we have come to expect to hear of the DPRK and its co-conspirators committing acts of a brutal, inhumane and cold-blooded nature and today we report on another. No nation, human or animal is safe from unwillingly contributing to the DPRK and its ever-growing money pot for weapons of mass destruction.

In this case the DPRK have teamed up with there usual partner in crime, China, to facilitate the illegal sale of rhino horn and violate UN sanctions.

Rhino horn – Big business on the black market

Rhino horn is big business for the Chinese and Vietnamese market places, used in some cultures as ‘traditional’ medicine, ornaments, or simply a ‘status symbol’ to demonstrate wealth. Poachers kill rhinos for their horns which are bought and sold on the black market- the value for this commodity ranging between $60,000 and $65,000 per kg (the same value as gold) with an average rhino horn weighing between 1-3kg each.

Between 2009 and 2018, 11000kg of illegally harvested rhino horn was seized, with South Africa contributing nearly 3000kg and Mozambique over 1000kg; the value of which on today’s black market is between $660 and $715 million.

rhino horn
Poachers killed this black rhinoceros for its horn with high-caliber bullets at a water hole in South Africa’s Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park.

Pyongyang Papers have been tipped off that Yun Kil, an officer at DPRK Embassy South Africa based in Pretoria, is looking to sell $65 million of rhino horn to Shanghai Pharmaceutical Holding Con., Ltd, China from a South African supplier. The deal is via a Mozambican national named Avelino Antonio Nhantumbo. Nhantumbo was believed to be involved in a joint fishing venture with North Korea previously that was was shut down. Clearly he has not learnt from his previous illegal activity!

Although the rhino horn may have been sourced legally, requiring permits from both seller and buyer, international trade is not permitted under CITES regulations. CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is a multilateral treaty to protect endangered plants and animals, located in Geneva, Switzerland. the international trade in rhino horn has been banned since 1977.

Due to poaching and habitat loss rhinoceroses are now considered a critically endangered species with less than 30,000 rhinos living in wild today. Unfortunately, the scarcity and decreasing availability of rhino horn only continues to increase its value, and therefore the demand for it.

This isn’t the first time the DPRK has been caught in the illicit sale of African wildlife; Pyongyang Papers has previously reported on two North Korean diplomats arrested and detained in 2016 for smuggling multiple kilos of rhino horn. There are further reports from 2019, revealing that North Korean diplomats have continued to engage in smuggling rhino horn out of South Africa, despite the risk of being detained.

Hypersonic gliding missile

The commission for the deal undertaken between Yun Kil and Shanghai Pharmaceutical Holding Con., Ltd will amount to a multi-million USD pay-out which will be claimed by the DPRK regime and likely to fund its ballistic weapons program.

Despite UN sanctions, North Korea continue to advance its nuclear arms weapons technology. In September 2021, North Korea successfully tested a new hypersonic gliding missile. State media, Korean Central News Agency reported the launch was of ‘great strategic significance’ as the North seeks to increase its defense capabilities ‘thousand-fold’.

Hypersonic missiles move much faster and more agile than standard ones, making them much harder for missile defense systems- on which the U.S. is spending billions- to intercept.

It comes as no surprise, as Kim Jong Un announced his intention to develop more weapons and increase the country’s military capabilities at the Workers’ Party Eighth Congress in January 2021.

The launch took place less than an hour before North Korea’s UN envoy, Kim Song, addressed the UN’s annual meeting in New York. Kim told the UN that Pyongyang had a, ‘righteous right to self-defense’, and therefore implying a right to develop weapons.

North Korea has increased the pace of their missile testing in 2022, launching a total of nine so far. January saw a record number of such tests, with at least seven launches during the month including a hypersonic missile.

It seems clear that leader Kim Jong Un has no intention of slowing down North Korea’s production of weapons of mass destruction, despite the US’s pleas for peace talks. Here at Pyongyang papers we ask- what will it take for the Kim dynasty to end their tyrannical rule spanning more than 7 decades, and free all the innocent parties who are suffering at the hands of this regime?

Who knew that Western Europe was a hotbed of DPRK diplomats behaving badly? The Pyongyang Papers didn’t. But we’re hearing more about shady North Korean affairs in Europe.

The first of these stories concerned an individual called Jo Kwang Chol.

Jo is a 42 year old North Korean posted to one of the world’s most livable cities – Vienna. Although not listed as a diplomat in the North Korean Embassy, his position is still endorsed by the Regime. Jo is the representative in Vienna for the Foreign Trade Bank (FTB) , a financial institution that was designated by the UN in 2017 for providing financial support to North Korea’s WMD programs.

A state-owned financial institution providing funding to fuel state-run WMD program – what a surprise.

FTB was established in 1959 and it has acted as the DPRK’s primary foreign exchange bank. FTB was sanctioned because it reportedly provided financial support to a number of other designated entities, including the Korea Kwangsong Banking Corporation (KKBC) and KOMID (North Korea’s main international arms trader). FTB was designated by OFAC in November 2013 and in August 2017 the UN followed suit and sanctioned it under Resolution 2371.

Cover companies and frozen money

Enter: Jo Kwang Chol…

Jo spent much of last year trying to get his hands on some Euros in a frozen bank account. The account in question was at Austria’s Meinl Bank AG, and it belonged to an FTB cover company called the Korea Ungum Corporation. Jo was trying to get the money out the account because the Austrian government froze it in 2012 after accusing Ungum of involvement in illegal money laundering. Jo was reportedly trying to get around this minor inconvenience by pretending to be an employee of Ungum and requesting that that a salary is transferred to him each year from Ungum’s Euro account for ‘services provided’. What these ‘services’ are we have no idea.

In our opinion Jo’s plan doesn’t really seem that well thought through. If we were him, we’d have another slice of the local sachertorte and try think up something else.

Diplomats & generators

Our second story relates to Paris: an equally nice place for a weekend away and an equally nice posting for a DPRK “diplomat”.

The diplomat in question is a long-time Paris-based official called Kim Chol Yong. Apparently he is stern man who takes his work very seriously at the DPRK’s Cultural Exchange Bureau. The 55 year old Kim (born 1st June 1964 according to paragraph 80 of the UNPOE report) has lived in France since 1989. In fact, as far as we can tell, Kim is the longest serving North Korean official in France. In that time, Kim has acted as the Regime’s procurement conduit in Europe – shipping anything from tons of toothpaste to heavy machinery.

Kim has been diligently taking orders from Pyongyang for years. Kim is named in the 2019 UNPOE report as being responsible for attempting to ship four generator units from China to the DPRK. According to the report, Kim took on a Chinese identity in order to move this equipment. The generators were seized by the Dutch authorities.

Images of the generator units seized by the Dutch authorities

Pharmaceuticals for the elite

In 2017, the Regime’s 1217 Research Institute told Kim to buy huge volumes of pharmaceuticals, pill manufacturing materials, and toothpaste from China. Kim subsequently posed as a representative of the Potonggang Pharmaceutical Trading Company in order to obtain these requested goods – including Rivotril for anxiety attacks. Why is a research institute buying toothpaste?

Our source close to the deal discovered that Kim was also sourcing pharmaceuticals for Rakwon 929 Import Corporation. Rakwon is the trading arm of the Ponghwa Clinic in Pyongyang, which procures drugs for the North Korean elite. It would not take much thinking to conclude that all these drugs Kim is exporting are for the elites and not the Korean people who really need them.

Kim is the longest-standing “diplomat” in France, trusted with highly sensitive information about the DPRK Elites and their private medical needs. This, coupled with Kim’s wealth of experience in procurement and his network of contacts in France, must make him an asset to the DPRK diplomatic community in Paris. With this sort of trust, clearance, and respect among the diplomats, it is reasonable to think of what other roles Kim full fills. At PP, we would be highly surprised if DPRK Intelligence Agencies don’t make use of Kim’s contacts.

Kim’s activities in Paris over more than a decade have provided a huge amount of financial support to both the North Korean regime and its ballistic missile program. Maybe it’s time for him to say adieu to the city of light?

PP has learned from a South African researcher that North Korean diplomats have reduced their buying and selling of ivory and rhino horns over the last year.

For a regime that has been involved in the slaughter and sale of African wildlife for over 30 years, this sudden change in behaviour appears strange. Kim Jong Un is happy to conduct poisonous nuclear tests, so its hard for PP to imagine that he’s suddenly developed an environmental conscience.

So what could be driving his change of mind?

It looks like a final effort to save the reputation of North Korea’s embassies overseas after its diplomats were caught in a series of embarrassing acts.

In September and October 2016 two North Korean diplomats were separately detained in Addis Ababa for smuggling ivory. In March 2016 a North Korean diplomat in Tanzania was kicked out for ivory and drug trafficking in Zambia and South Africa using a forged passport. Embarrasingly – and widely reported in the global media, in May 2015, Pak Chol-Jun and Kim Jong-Su, both North Korean diplomats based in Pretoria, were arrested with 4.5 kilograms of rhino horns in Maputo. (See article here.)

These are not isolated cases. For decades, the criminal trade in African wildlife has been a valuable source of income for the regime in Pyongyang. The Global Initiative Against Transactional Organised Crime reported in 2016 that North Korean diplomats have been caught smuggling horn and ivory at least 18 times since 1986. (See article here.) The extensive trade also ties in to the wider political destabilisation. For example, in 2009 North Korea provided arms and training to military groups in the DRC and Ethiopia in exchange for diamonds and ivory. These goods were smuggled out for resale to organised crime groups in Thailand.

With this long and negative history in Africa, is the DPRK going to stop its involvement in wildlife crime? It doesn’t seem likely to PP.

Indeed, the regime already appears to have lost control of the issue. PP has learned that in the last few months, middlemen in West Africa claimed that DPRK labourers in Africa were continuing to smuggle ivory for their own personal profit. North Korean workers are a source of cheap labour in poorly managed mining projects in the forests of West and Central Africa. Forced to hand over all of their wages to Kim Jong Un’s nuclear pet project, PP doesn’t think that they will stop exploiting Africa’s wildlife to make some money on the side.

North Korean involvement in wildlife crime looks likely to continue. African governments must unite to stop these criminal acts. Pyongyang’s diplomats overseas must not be allowed to continue destroying Africa’s natural wealth for their own benefit.