A North Korean embassy in Eastern Europe received a large batch of illegal drugs from the North Korean government last year, according to reports in South Korean press.
The reasoning behind the plan was simple — cash. The Chosun Ilbo reports that the embassy was given orders to sell the drugs, and send the money back home.
The information is reported to come from a defected North Korean agent, who also alleged that that the similar orders had been sent to other embassies.
The source alleged that North Korea shipped 20 kilo packages of methamphetamine to different diplomats abroad. They then gave them a deadline to send cash back: April 15, to celebrate the birthday of leader Kim Jong-Un.
The plan appears to be focused on Eastern Europe, an area that has a well-documented issue with meth.
The newspaper reports that the plan to sell illegal drugs was being conducted under the guidance of Room 39, one of two secret North Korean agencies devoted to obtaining foreign cash for the North Korean leadership (the other is known as Room 38). The Chosun Ilbo cites sources who say that 3,000 kg of drugs could be translating into revenues of between $100 million and $200 million for North Korea.
Of course, foreign currency is vital for a sanctions-stifled state that stopped paying its debts 20 years ago, and has a worthless local currency (the won), and stories of international crime conducted by the North Korean state are common.
One 2007 report estimated that the these funds netted North Korea $500 million to $1 billion a year, via a variety of methods, including widespread counterfeiting of U.S. dollars (at least $45 million according to a 2006 U.S. congressional report), foreign hotels and restaurants, and even reports of gold smuggling and drug trafficking. A 2009 Washington Post story talks about an enormous international insurance scam being conducted by the group.
As Max Fisher of the Washington Post notes, this illicit trade is keeping more than the rocket industry afloat: it’s keeping Kim in caviar and brandy while his populace struggles for basic medical care.
Fisher also notes reports from two years ago that said the government-run meth trade had leaked into the populace, who preferred using it as a “cure all” due to lack of proper meds. It may be leaking abroad too. The Economist reported last month that China had been battling meth smugglers among the many defectors from North Korea.
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