North Korea and drugs?
walterlx at earthlink.net
Thu Apr 24 09:31:36 MDT 2003
(Knowing nothing at all about North Korea
beyond its geographical location and the
interesting fact that the US is now starting
negotiations with North Korea, does any
one on this list know anything about the
stuff discussed here? Anything at all in
this WSJ item which is factually true?)
April 23, 2003
Heroin Busts Point to Source
Of Funds for North Koreans
By JAY SOLOMON and JASON DEAN
Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
The Taiwanese fishing vessel steered into waters off North
Korea last June, hoisting a black flag with the image of a
bull. A North Korean gunboat, manned with sailors in what
looked like naval uniforms, soon pulled up. A member of each
crew showed a torn half of a red Taiwan hundred-dollar bill
bearing the image of Sun Yat-sen, founder of Taiwan's
government. When the halves matched, the North Koreans
transferred 198 plastic-wrapped bricks of heroin to the
The incident, described by police and lawyers for some of
the Taiwanese, was part of a broad North Korean campaign to
finance its regime by selling contraband around the globe,
say U.S. and Asian intelligence officials. Going back to the
1970s, North Korean diplomats and military officers have
been arrested in Europe, the Mideast, Russia and Africa,
accused of trading in cocaine, heroin, bootlegged alcohol,
endangered animals and even counterfeit U.S. dollars.
High-level defectors allege that North Korean dictator Kim
Jong Il and his late father, Kim Il Sung, have personally
overseen development of the narcotics trade. As the economy
began contracting in the late 1980s, the defectors say, the
North Korean leaders ordered state collective farms and
youth brigades to produce opium to earn hard currency.
Villagers had to meet production targets, and the military
helped with distribution. U.S. and Asian intelligence
officials say North Korea linked up with criminal gangs in
the region to enhance its network.
"North Korea is essentially now a state-run criminal
syndicate," asserts Raphael Perl, a researcher at the U.S.
government's Congressional Research Service, who has
tracked the country's drug trade for a decade.
North Korea's exports from legitimate businesses totaled
just $650 million in 2001, according to South Korea's
central bank. But its annual revenue from illegal drugs runs
between $500 million and $1 billion, officials at the U.S.
military command in South Korea estimate. Another source of
hard currency: secret missile sales that U.S. forces in
South Korea estimate added up to $560 million in 2001.
As multilateral talks on North Korea's nuclear program begin
Wednesday in Beijing, one concern is that if they chose, the
North Koreans could readily convert their smuggling networks
to selling nuclear fuel. North Korea restarted its nuclear
reactor this year and has been making noises about beginning
to reprocess its spent fuel rods into plutonium, which can
be used for bombs. Says a senior U.S. official in Seoul:
"North Korea has a historical record of smuggling anything
to anyone anywhere." (See more on the Beijing talks1.)
The most recent drug bust came Sunday, when the Australian
navy chased down and stormed aboard a North Korean cargo
ship, the Pong Su, off Sydney. Tuesday, Australia charged
its 30 North Korean crew members with trying to smuggle in
about 110 pounds of highly pure heroin, a charge the
Besides opium, of which North Korea is believed to be the
world's largest source after Afghanistan and Myanmar, North
Korea produces amphetamines. It was the origin of more than
a third of amphetamines seized in Japan from 1999 to 2001,
Japanese drug officials say.
The North Korean government denies that it has been involved
in drug trafficking. The police in Australia say they are
still investigating the exact relationship between the
drug-ship crew and the Kim government. But some U.S.
officials say the government control in North Korea is so
absolute it's difficult to imagine that gangs of North
Korean nationals could operate independently. And interviews
with a half-dozen defectors, as well as drug-enforcement
officials in four North Asian countries, suggest involvement
of the top leadership.
Kim Dok Hong was a senior official of North Korea's Workers'
Party in the early 1990s, a member of the Central Committee
and the top aide to founder Kim Il Sung's secretary. Central
Committee documents he read outlined Kim Il Sung's orders
for opium production in the early 1990s, before the
founder's 1994 death, says the 64-year-old defector in an
interview at a guarded safe house in Seoul. The economy was
withering as aid declined from traditional benefactors China
and Russia. North Korea's economy has suffered still more
since then -- its legitimate exports falling by more than
half since the early 1990s -- prompting a search for new
sources of foreign currency.
Kim Il Sung visited a collective farm in the province of
Namjak-Ri in the fall of 1993 and instructed managers to
"produce more opium, which is to be bartered for food,"
recounts Kim Dok Hong, who says he read the comments in
official Communist Party bulletins. The 1997 defector adds
that in speeches to party cadres, outlined in Central
Committee documents, the founder known as "the Great Leader"
spoke of how opium could be a crucial means for earning hard
Kim Jong Il, the founder's son and now North Korea's ruler,
traveled to provincial towns, where meetings were held to
discuss which would be the best areas for growing opium
poppies, the defector says he read in Central Committee
documents. He says the government chose the provinces of
Southern Hamkyung and Northern Hamkyung.
Park Sung Hak, a 2000 defector who had been a leader of the
Kim Il Sung Youth Association, says his organization was
tasked in the mid-1990s with overseeing opium-poppy
cultivation. Traveling through farms in mountainous regions,
Mr. Park says, he helped enforce production quotas laid down
by the state. Farmers who came up short faced punishment.
Their produce was transferred to government factories where
it could be processed into heroin, says Mr. Park, 35, who
now works for a software company in Seoul.
"Opium gets you 300 times the profit you can get from corn,"
Mr. Park says. He says farmers were kept in the dark about
the opium's use. An unknown portion apparently went for
medicine, because North Korea, lacking most painkilling
drugs, uses opium as a substitute.
Kim Dok Hong says that, before his defection, he was
personally involved in escorting Southeast Asian drug lords
around the North Korean capital. He recounts how North Korea
once sent a bad batch of heroin to Japan that sickened
users. "There was real concern that some of the people may
have died from ingesting the bad drugs," he says.
Mr. Kim says a Laotian businessman and three Burmese drug
merchants, sitting in an office of a North Korean military
trading company in 1996, schooled him and officers from a
military trading company on what had gone wrong with the
drug shipment. The Laotian explained that too many chemicals
had been used, he says, while the Burmese merchants
instructed the North Korean military men in how to make
their heroin more pure.
HISTORY OF DRUG BUSTS
A look at alleged North Korean involvement in the drugs
. 1979: Police in Laos arrest North Korean diplomat for
attempting to smuggle heroin through a Laotian airport.
. 1985: East German police arrest, deport North Korean
diplomat for attempting to smuggle heroin, morphine into the
. 1994: Russian police arrest two North Korean intelligence
agents in eastern port of Vladivostock after they tried to
. 1998: Egyptian police arrest North Korean diplomat serving
in Syria as he attempted to smuggle rohypnol into Egypt,
believed to be the largest seizure of the 'date rape' drug
. 2002: Japanese authorities seize amphetamines from Chinese
ship off the coast of Fukuoka. Police say drugs were picked
up from a North Korean vessel in North Korean waters.
. 2002: Taiwanese police arrest eight people on suspicion of
attempting to smuggle heroin into the country from North
Korea on fishing vessel.
. 2003: Australian security forces arrest 30 North Koreans
for allegedly shipping $50 million of heroin into Victoria.
Australian Navy seized North Korean cargo ship after
five-day chase before making arrests.
Though quality improved, distribution channels began proving
troublesome. Detention of North Korean diplomats abroad for
alleged drug smuggling rose sharply in the mid-1990s, say
South Korean and U.S. officials.
North Korea's dealings in contraband have deep roots.
Virtually North Korea's entire diplomatic corps in
Scandinavia was expelled in 1976 for allegedly running a
smuggling ring through Norway, Denmark and Finland, dealing
mostly in alcohol and cigarettes. Arrests of North Korean
diplomats for allegedly dealing in marijuana, cocaine,
morphine and the "date rape" drug rohypnol have also been
reported over the past three decades.
A North Korean envoy arrested in Russia in 1996 with nearly
50 pounds of heroin committed suicide while in custody, a
South Korean police report says. Other arrested diplomats
have signed statements saying they were acting alone. In the
early days, contraband sometimes moved in diplomatic
pouches. In more recent years, North Korea increasingly has
turned to partnerships with Asian gangs for distribution.
"The recent trend is for these [gangs] to send boats into
North Korean waters. Fishing boats come to pick up the
drugs," says Yoo Dong Ryul, an analyst for the South Korean
One reason for North Korea's success has been cooperation
with Japanese organized crime, say U.S. and Japanese
drug-enforcement officials. Between 1999 and 2001, Japanese
authorities seized more than 2,400 pounds of amphetamines en
route from North Korea, 34% of Japan's total seizures of the
drug. China, which in past years was the main source,
accounted for 38%.
North Korean spy ships make their way into Japanese waters
and rendezvous with Japan's yakuza gangs. One such ship
sailed into the waters off southwestern Japan on Dec. 22,
2001. When Japanese Coast Guard boats ordered it to halt,
the North Korean crew opened fire. The Coast Guard fired
back and sank the vessel, which the Japanese government
later determined to be a North Korean spy vessel that was
also selling amphetamines to Japanese gangsters. All crew
members were presumed drowned.
Taiwan, too, has seen more drugs flowing in from North Korea
through local gangs. The Taiwanese vessel that linked up
with a North Korean gunboat and matched torn halves of a
bill took aboard about 174 pounds of heroin, say Taiwan
police and prosecutors. The July 2002 bust of the fishing
ship, called the Shun Chi Fa, yielded 13% of the heroin
Taiwan seized last year, according to Taiwan's Investigation
The prosecutor of the arrested Taiwanese crew, Wu
Tzong-guang, estimates the ship had made five or six
successful smuggling trips to North Korean waters before
being caught. He says the smuggling suspects told him the
July haul was their smallest.
Taiwanese authorities began tracking the ship early last
year, tipped off by a man who said he had taken part in one
voyage. Police tracked several trips but were foiled when
the fishing ship, after returning from North Korean waters,
always moved its cargo onto small boats as it neared Taiwan.
But last June 16, police watched as the mother ship set out
again for North Korean waters. Taiwanese authorities
eavesdropped on calls the crew made to their contacts back
in Taiwan. On June 21, in North Korean waters, the crew of
the Shun Chi Fa raised its flag and picked up its cargo from
the North Korean gunboat.
Back in the vicinity of Taiwan, the ship halted near an
island and crews transferred the heroin bricks to a small
boat called the Hsie Man 18. The "little bucket," as they
called it, headed into the Shen Au port. This time, police
were able to track the smaller boat, and were waiting when
Among those they arrested, and are now trying in court, was
the alleged ringleader, Lin Jing-kwo, a 34-year-old member
of a wealthy Taiwanese family. His attorney declined to
comment. Lawyers for three of the six other suspects -- who
like Mr. Lin are currently on trial -- say their clients
were indeed involved in smuggling, but didn't know that the
contraband was heroin.
The heroin in this seizure came in three unremarkable boxes.
In several earlier raids in Taiwan and Japan, says Taiwan's
Investigation Bureau, the packages were more noteworthy. The
drugs were packed in rice bags -- the same bags used to hold
rice that Taiwan donates to North Korea to ease its hunger
-- Sebastian Moffett contributed to this article.
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