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Inside “Office 39”: North Korea’s Global Smuggling Network

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North Korea’s Kim Jong Un disappears and then appears. Now, the burly despot is out of sight again, and that begs the question: who runs the store, who keeps him on binge and fancy wheels?

Her little sister has assumed her role as saber-rattler, even threatening a nuclear attack on the United States. But those caught up in the palace intrigue really want to know if she’s the one who oversees the money machine that keeps the machine running, too.

That would be the obscure and notorious Office 39 in Pyongyang, the headquarters of a supposedly illicit global smuggling ring designed to generate millions in foreign currency that fattens the chests of Kim and his family.

Without it, Pyongyang’s elite, hampered by UN and United States sanctions that prevent them from trading above the board with the world, would have to do without any luxury, not to mention nuclear weapons.

“Where do you think Kim gets her Cognac, Mercedes and Rolex watches?” David Maxwell, a retired colonel in the US Army Special Forces. USA And an expert on North Korea, he asked the Post. “All the money to buy those things comes from Office 39.”

Drug manufacturing and trafficking, counterfeiting, gold smuggling, arms trafficking, and slave labor are just a few of the ultra-illegal activities that Office 39 has sponsored since Kim’s late father, Kim Jong-Il, launched it in 1974.

Kim Jong-Un
Korean leader Kim Jong-Il walks in front of his youngest son, Kim Jong-Un, in 2010.REUTERS

Kim reportedly hidden in his coastal complex in Wonsan is the nominal head of Office 39, which is located in a faceless government building in the capital. Some speculate that his sister, who is married to a top 39 Office official, may also be starting to take control. Others insist that the operation remains firmly in the hands of the septuagenarian executives who do much of the heavy lifting in Pyongyang.

“It is like a bank for Kim Jong Un,” North Korean defector Jason Lee, 35, told the Post. Both Lee and his father worked as executives at Office 39, running shipping companies, before fleeing from Pyongyang to Seoul and then to the United States.

“But he has become a little more careful in recent years about illegal activity,” said Lee. “He was getting too much attention and he looked bad for the game.”

Until the early 2000s, North Korean diplomats working on behalf of Office 39 were the shameless men of the regime, and often remain, according to Sean King, an Asia specialist for Park Strategies in New York.

“The Kim are like an organized crime family posing as the leaders of a country,” King told the Post. “The diplomats were sent abroad with foreign exchange quotas that they would have to repay, by whatever means necessary. North Korean embassies organized as a multinational criminal enterprise.”

Kim Yo Jong, sister of Kim Jong Un
Kim Yo Jong, sister of Kim Jong UnAP

Many of the so-called diplomats toured the world, carrying liquor, cigarettes, and North Korean-made drugs or other contraband to embassies around the world. Office 39 employees also made money for Kim by acting as independent drug mules for other countries.

North Korea still maintains around 40 embassies, but the most money is made by exporting slave labor. In the Siberian territory in China and Russia, for example, North Korean men perform jobs like logging and are forced to give almost all of their wages to the government.

Drug smuggling peaked in the early 2000s. In 2003, Australian police found $ 160 million of heroin unloaded on a beach from Pong Su, a North Korean cargo ship.

“North Korea may still be involved in drug trafficking, but today it is not officially sanctioned by the regime,” Michael Madden, a North Korean scholar at 38 North, told The Post.

A look at how Office 39 worked came in 2017 when Ri Jong-Ho, a former top Office 39 official who deserted in 2014, told a Japanese media outlet that the operation had five core groups run by thousands of low-income employees. level, a few do legitimate business but many do not.

Ri told the Washington Post that he could bring millions of US dollars to Pyongyang simply by handing over a bag of cash to a ship captain leaving a Chinese coastal city for the North Korean port of Nampo. Ri estimated that he sent $ 10 million that way in the first nine months of 2014 alone.

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Trump administration warns against investing in Chinese companies

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The Trump administration warned of investing in Chinese companies due to the possibility of sanctions and boycotts for the Chinese Communist Party’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and its strong-armed response to pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, according to a report.

National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien and Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, wrote in a letter to the United States Railroad Retirement Board that investments in China opened their retirees to “unnecessary economic risks,” the report said. Tuesday the New York Times. .

The letter also noted that the investments would put money in the hands of companies “that raise significant humanitarian and national security concerns,” including some that supply the Chinese military.

Citing a “moment of increasing uncertainty,” O’Brien and Kudlow said “the possibility of future sanctions or boycotts that may arise from a wide range of problems, including the Chinese government’s culpable actions regarding the global spread of the Covid – 19 pandemic, the suppression of democracy in Hong Kong. “

The Railroad Retirement Board, an independent federal agency, managed $ 28.3 billion in assets at the end of 2018, according to the report.

He said the board has placed the assets in a diversified portfolio like many private sector retirement plans have.

The White House warning comes at a time of heightened tension between Washington and Beijing.

President Trump blamed China for confusing his response to the coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan City.

And the world’s two largest economies have been involved in a trade war after Trump accused Beijing of treating American companies unfairly and stealing intellectual property.

Last week, China imposed a strict national security law in Hong Kong that cracks down on criticism of the Chinese Communist Party and penalizes “secession”, “subversion” and the organization of “terrorist activities”.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in an interview Monday with Fox News, said the United States is considering banning TikTok and other Chinese social media apps over concerns that they collect data from users and share it with the Chinese Communist Party.

“I don’t want to go out in front of [Trump]But it’s something we’re seeing, “said Pompeo.” We’re taking this very seriously. We’re certainly seeing it. “

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Portland Police Union Blames City Officials for Riots: “Condemn Violence”

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The Portland police union criticized public officials for allowing protesters to destroy the city, as protesters once again taunted police on Tuesday night.

In a publication titled “This Cannot Continue,” Portland Police Association President Daryl Turner called on elected officials to “stand up and defend Portland.”

“Condemn violence and burning, looting and destruction of property,” said Turner. “Trust and support the decisions made by law enforcement leaders who simply want to keep residents, business owners and peaceful protesters safe.”

The Black Lives Matter protests have been going on in Portland for more than a month after George Floyd’s death by police. However, protests have frequently turned violent amid clashes between police, protesters and members of the anti-fascist group Antifa.

Looters also ravaged businesses in downtown Portland in late May.

Turner said the police have suffered verbal and physical abuse for too long.

“As the riots continue, it is obvious to everyone that this is no longer about George Floyd, social justice, or police reform,” he said. “They are a group of individuals who try to cause injury, mayhem and destruction by mutiny, looting, lighting fires, throwing stones, bottles, mortars, urine and feces at peaceful protesters, as well as the police.

Police confront protesters as demonstrated by supporters of the Black Lives Matter in Portland, Oregon.

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Black Lives Matter protests continue in Portland

Police arrest protesters as demonstrated by Black Lives Matter supporters in Portland, Oregon.

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“These violent criminal acts have dragged on for nearly 40 days non-stop, while the men and women of the Portland Police Office and its associated agencies have shown staggering restraint in the face of the most divisive moment this country has seen in history modern “.

Turner’s letter concluded: “Keep the people of Portland safe and free from riot, while respecting their First Amendment rights. Support police leadership. Support officers. Tell those who intend to burn and loot our great city ​​not welcome here. Put Portland first.

The protests were largely peaceful on Tuesday night, when crowds gathered to pay tribute to Summer Taylor, the 24-year-old protester who died after being hit by a high-speed car Saturday in Seattle, Oregon Live reported. . At one point, a fight broke out between protesters, prompting police to respond and fire two noisy ammunition.

Video from the scene shows protesters confronting heavily armed police.

The groups had planned a “peaceful sit-in” on Tuesday night, as well as a “Night of Wrath for Summer Taylor.”

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Kazakh beach dwellers beat unconscious seal so kids could take photos

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A seal was beaten to unconsciousness by a group of men on a beach in Kazakhstan, so that children could take photos with it, according to a report.

The defenseless mammal was swimming in the Caspian Sea in Kuryk when the men launched their attack, the Daily Mail reported.

The video of the haunting assault shows the men hitting the seal with long sticks near the shoreline, and another man hoisting a large rock over his head.

Local media reports said the attack continued until the animal passed out, the Mail reported.

“They beat the seal until he passed out. Then they took it out of the water so that the children could take photos and have fun, ”said one witness in one of the reports. “After that, they threw the motionless body back into the sea. I don’t know if he survived. “

The animal attack occurs the same week that people threw rocks at another seal that was swimming in the water. The video of that incident was released by Kazakh model Yevgeniya Mukasheva.

Caspian seals are listed as endangered species.

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