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North Korean agents demanding more bribes from defector networks

By Elizabeth Shim
North Korean agents demanding more bribes from defector networks
North Korea is increasingly targeting defector networks and siphoning funds meant for defector families. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 23 (UPI) -- North Korea state security agents are increasingly profiting from money defectors in the South are wiring to their families, a sign bribery and corruption is rising among state authorities.

Brokers who are entrusted to transfer funds coming from South Korea to families in the North are being targeted and threatened, but North Korean security agents are willing to go easy on brokers if they obtain a greater cut of the funds, Daily NK reported Friday.

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A source in North Hamgyong Province told the South Korean news service on Thursday authorities want more, and that for every $1,000 wired to the North, security agents take as much as $500 to enrich themselves, according to the report.

"As recently as two months ago the fee they asked was about 25-30 percent of funds being transferred from South Korea or China," the source said. "Now it is normal to ask for 40 percent."

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The price for "looking the other way" as funds continue to flow through defector networks is rising as brokers are becoming known to North Korea's security bureau, the source said.

"Here in North Korea the people who work in money transfers are practically registered with the security affairs bureau," the source told Daily NK. "Agents are asking for their share."

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The cut of money being pocketed by state authorities is rising because agents now have to send money to their senior supervisors as well, according to the report.

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Most defectors in the South send money to their families in the North.

According to the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights in Seoul, more than 60 percent of defectors in a 2016 survey said they have sent money to the North at least once.

About 30 percent said they send about $2,500 each time they make a transfer, and most said they send money once or twice a year.

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It is unclear whether money transfers will become easier as détente continues on the peninsula.

South Korean news service OhMyNews reported Friday Pyongyang's decision to send Kim Yong Chol, the North Korean vice chairman of the ruling Workers' Party Central Committee, is a sign Kim Jong Un is prioritizing improved relations with the South over seeking immediate dialogue with the United States.

Kim is to attend the Winter Olympics' closing ceremony on Sunday.

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