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North Korea merchants paying regular state bribes to avoid penalties

A source in the country likened the system to "feudal exploitation."

By Elizabeth Shim
New buildings being built in the North Korean city Sinuiju, across the Yalu River from Dandong, China. North Korean merchants who cross the border for business purposes are the target of state-sponsored bribery, according to a source in the country. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI
New buildings being built in the North Korean city Sinuiju, across the Yalu River from Dandong, China. North Korean merchants who cross the border for business purposes are the target of state-sponsored bribery, according to a source in the country. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

SEOUL, Dec. 14 (UPI) -- Ordinary North Koreans are paying substantial bribes, about $75 a month, to state security agents to avoid harassment, according to a Japanese press report.

The trend is growing at a time when fewer people are relying on the state planning system and are turning to unofficial markets to make a living, the Tokyo Shimbun reported Wednesday.

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The payments that were once mandatory for government officials are now required of the less privileged population, according to a merchant based in Pyongyang who spoke anonymously.

The "donations" go to the state's "revolutionary funds," the source said.

The source added he received a visit from a security agent at his home in October and gave the agent money to avoid trouble.

"In [North Korea], there is a system of feudal exploitation worse than what was in place during the Japanese colonial era," the source said.

Security agents harass locals for bribes because they are "desperate to raise money."

"It has only become natural for them to receive payoffs in return for looking the other way when people are caught in illegal acts, such as viewing South Korean television dramas," the source said.

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The illicit media is often smuggled into North Korea across the China border, then make their way to one of the more than 400 marketplaces in the country.

The markets are the lifeblood of the economy where about 1.1 million citizens work in privatized businesses, according to South Korean researchers.

The average range of a North Korean state worker's monthly salary is about 1,500-6,000 North Korean won, but in the markets a kilogram of rice costs about 5,000 won, requiring most households to seek a second source of income, according to South Korean news service News 1.

The exchange rate is about 8,000 North Korean won to the dollar, according to recent visitors to the country.

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