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3/13/04 - NORTH KOREA AND NARCOTICS - 2004-03-15

Official North Korean involvement in drug trafficking seems likely. A report released by the U.S. Department of State cites the 2003 capture of the “Pong Su,” a ship owned by a North Korean trading company, as yet one more example that North Koreans are likely trafficking in drugs. The vessel was seized by Australian authorities after delivering one-hundred-twenty-five kilograms of heroin to individuals at an isolated beach near Lorne, Australia.

The "Pong Su" narcotics seizure occurred in the context of criminal activities perpetrated by North Korean officials for decades. As Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told the Japan National Press Club in February, "North Korea is a country that supports itself largely through counterfeiting, smuggling, trading in drugs and missiles and other weapons...."

“There are very strong indications,” says Robert Charles, head of the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics Law Enforcement Affairs, that “the North Korean government is involved” in drug trafficking. In some cases, says Mr. Charles, North Korean state-owned boats are involved in the drug trafficking.

Donald Gregg, president of the Korea Society in New York and a former U.S. ambassador to South Korea, says, “The evidence North Korea systematically grows and exports drugs is growing stronger all the time”:

“There have been a number of arrests around the world for years. The North Koreans have very little money, and they have had to resort to all kind of nefarious schemes to fund their operating overseas."

North Korean officials have been apprehended for drug trafficking and other offenses in countries around the world and have used diplomatic pouches to conceal transport of illicit narcotics. Numerous North Korean defectors have publicly stated that opium was grown in North Korea and refined into heroin, which then was trafficked under the direction of an office of the ruling Communist Party of North Korea. Information developed by law enforcement in Japan, Taiwan, and elsewhere has repeatedly pointed to the involvement of North Korean officials and North Korean state-owned assets in narcotics trafficking.

The “Pong Su” seizure and other drug smuggling incidents linked to communist North Korea strongly indicate official involvement in the trafficking of illicit narcotics for profits. As the State Department report says, these events “make it highly likely, but not certain, that Pyongyang is trading narcotic drugs for profit as state policy."