North Korea Said To Be Using Drug Money to Fund Arms Program

(c) K.B. Sherman, 2003

According to The Herald Sun (Australia), two men identified as high-ranking North Korean defectors recently told a closed session of the US Senate’s Governmental Affairs Committee that they had been intimately involved in test-firing Pyongyang's missiles in Iran, an activity supported largely through a state-sponsored drug ring.

The men, their identities concealed, currently live in South Korea but were brought to the US by refugee advocacy groups. One witness told the open portion of the hearing that he worked as a missile scientist for nearly nine years at Plant 39 in Huichon, Jagang Province, North Korea, before defecting in July 1997. He said in summer 1989 he was ordered to go to Nampo seaport, dressed in military fatigues and was subsequently locked inside a freighter for a voyage of about 15 days. When the ship docked, he claimed he was taken aboard a missile guidance control vehicle with curtained windows on a two-day journey to a secret location, “…where the soldiers were wearing Middle Eastern uniforms.” The team then fired a missile from a remote site, before immediately being returned to the ship for a 15-day journey back to North Korea, again locked in the hold. The witness said he was subsequently told that his mission had been to Iran. He also claimed that 90 per cent of components used in his work inside the North Korean missile project were smuggled in on scheduled ferry services from Japan, every two or three weeks, possibly the NKV Mangyonbok-92 out of Niigata Port, Japan.

The other witness testified that the DPRK, desperate for hard currency, produces large quantities of heroin, methamphetamines, and opium that are sold for money to run the collapsing state’s defense industry.

Reportedly among ideas favored by US “hardliners” is a naval quarantine of North Korea to seize missiles, drugs and counterfeit money bound for foreign markets, although this is unlikely to be approved by the Bush Administration.

In related news, The Korean Times reported that Australian detectives recently were able to prevent a North Korean freighter from delivering drugs to Australia's southern coast. The Times claims that this one shipment into Australia is worth $ 52.8 million (US). According to police, 100 pounds of almost-pure heroin from Thailand was seized. Graham Ashton, southern operations manager for the Australian Federal Police, said the freighter, the 4,015-ton Pong Su, was equipped with extra fuel tanks and special communications devices. The Pong Su's 30 crew members were to appear before a Melbourne court to face charges of aiding and abetting the importation of illegal drugs on July 11.

North Korean officials denied the smuggling charges.

A boarding party from HMAS Stuart (FFH-153) captured the North Korean smuggler Pong Su in May. (pic: Royal Australian Navy)