Voice from the Commonwealth
Commentary, World Views and Occasional Rants from a small 'l' libertarian in Massachussetts

"If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest for freedom, go home and leave us in peace. We seek not your council nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen." - Samuel Adams

Monday, June 02, 2003

North Korea and Organized Crime.

In US congressional testimony in 2000, Frank J Cilluffo, an expert of transnational crime at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, made the interesting observation that "unlike Latin America or Europe, where organized crime attempts to penetrate the state, North Korea is penetrating organized crime".

Although sporadic and sparse, a spate of discoveries over the past 10 years have pointed to a North Korean criminal racket whose range of activities has either been secretly supported by Pyongyang or tolerated with a nod and wink.

If anything, the criminal trajectory of North Korea appears to be on an upward curve, suggesting tolerance and support at the highest level in the Stalinist state.

In 1995, seizure by Taiwanese police of 20 ship containers loaded with counterfeit cigarette packaging destined for North Korea proved its involvement with a Southeast Asian crime syndicate. One of the tobacco companies whose products were being counterfeited said the seized materials could have been used to make cigarettes with a retail value of US$1 billion.

But by far the most serious charges thrown at North Korea to date come from its involvement in the international drug trade.

While the verdict is still out on whether Pyongyang is directly involved in the cultivation and production of drugs, especially opiates and heroin, the latest discoveries in Australia seem to point to some level of complicity. In this week's incident, Australian police said they had found 75kg of high-grade heroin buried west of the town of Lorne in the southern state of Victoria, and believed another batch of up to 25kg had fallen into the water during the smuggling operation. The find took the total estimated street value of the seized drugs to US$145 million.

Not surprisingly, the North Korean government denied all Australian charges as propaganda to tarnish the image of the country.

Be that as it may, a long line of previous incidents tilt the scales against North Korea. Marcus Noland, an economist at the Institute of International Economics in Washington, has written: "North Korea has been involved in at least 30 drug-trafficking incidents internationally, many involving diplomats. These mainly appear to take the form of North Koreans attempting to distribute drugs produced for export in North Korea, or North Koreans using diplomatic immunity as an advantage in distributing drugs produced by non-Korean criminal cartels."

It is only lately that North Koreans, mostly diplomats, have been arrested for smuggling to evade border taxes (cigarettes, alcohol, gold), counterfeit goods (cigarettes and compact discs), endangered species and ivory, and military equipment that the international community has tried to piece the separate parts together to put Kim Jong-il's regime to greater scrutiny.

In fact, arrests have been made in places as diverse as Scandinavia (Sweden, Finland), Eastern Europe (Estonia, Russia), and Asia (China, Nepal, Thailand, and Cambodia). There have been cases where North Korean diplomats have been interdicted in checkpoints in Guinea, Kenya and Zambia too.

< email | 6/02/2003 03:30:00 PM | link

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