SEOUL, Oct. 5 (UPI) -- Faced with tough choices, more senior North Korean officials may be visiting fortunetellers to identify what they think is important information: an auspicious date to permanently leave the country.
A source in North Korea's Yanggang Province told South Korean news service Daily NK that senior officials in the region seek solace in advice from soothsayers, although acts involving superstition are illegal in the country.
"The number of officials engaging in superstitious practice, in order to inquire about defections, is quietly on the rise," the source said. "Due to pressures of being possibly purged if they are unable to carry out the commands of the central authority, they are turning to fortunetellers for answers."
A soothsayer with a good reputation is often inundated with officials who seek advice, the source said.
Officials ask about their prospects for promotion, but they are also concerned about their chances of a successful defection, the source said, adding seeking such advice has become a "regular event."
But requesting a professional fortuneteller's advice on defecting comes with a hefty pricetag.
While answers on issues such as personal health or marriage prospects cost about 10,000 North Korean won, advice on defecting runs much higher, and requires a payment of about 600,000 won, according to the source.
There is no official exchange rate between the North Korean won and the U.S. dollar, but unofficial estimates state 7,900-8,000 won is equivalent to $1.
In a country where about 2 pounds of rice costs 5,000 won, a fee of 600,000 won is the equivalent of about 240 pounds of rice, according to the report.
Soliciting fortunetellers and other forms of superstitious practices are illegal in North Korea, according to penal code 256.
North Korea law punishes such acts with a maximum one-year prison sentence at a labor camp, or a maximum of three years at a reeducation camp.