Archive for the 'North Korea' Category


North Korea and the Panama Papers

The Panama Papers are a massive data leak from the tax-avoidance specialist firm, Mossack Fonseca (MF). And even the most amateur North Korea watcher knows that where ever there is secrecy and grey legal areas you are sure to find North Korea lurking around trying to make illicit trade deals and otherwise hanging out with like-minded criminals and criminal states.

So far it seems that MF acted on behalf of

at least 33 company shareholders, directors and other beneficiaries who were under sanctions by the U.S. Treasury department, the European Union and the United Nations”.

North Korea is being highlighted in two cases. The first is DCB Finance involving British banker Nigel Cowie and North Korean official Kim Chol Sam. The company is alleged to have helped finance North Korea’s weapons programmes. Nigel apparently moved to North Korea 1995 and lived there for a decade, which means he was there when the famine was at its worst and in 2003 when North Korea announced its withdrawal from the Non-Proliferation Treaty. He denies any knowledge of any illegal dealings. Hmmm.


MF did end its relationship with DCB in 2010 after someone suggested they look at their own paperwork showing that the company was registered in Pyongyang. One employee acknowledge that this ‘should have been a red flag’. Though to be fair, when you’re dealing with tax-avoiding elites, corrupt officials, dictators and other nefarious characters and countries it can hard to spot an actual sanctioned company from the ones which should be sanctioned.

(Source: Washington Post)

The other case involves two Australian-based men who apparently set up two companies which announced mining deals with North Korea and registered on the Australian Stock Exchange. An ex-UN official on the UN Security Council Panel of Experts for North Korea sanctions spoke to the ABC in Australia to clarify that “the deals involved North Korean entities under sanctions” and that he was “absolutely stunned” by the lack of attention paid, presumably by the Australian authorities, to the public announcements of the companies mining deals.

But of course it’s not just North Korea accessing the services of MF. In South Korea, 195 individuals have been identified so far. This includes former President Roh Tae-woo’s son, Roh Jae-heon. He’s claiming that he never did anything with the companies. Hmmm.


HRW – World Report entry on North Korea’s human rights situation (spoiler: its bad)

Human Rights Watch has issued its annual report on the human rights situation in some selected countries. As usual, North Korea is one of the countries worthy of attention for its abysmal human rights record. Like last year’s entry there is more about civil and political rights than economic, social and cultural rights – that’s not necessarily a criticism as much as an observation.

The introduction section gives us a run-down of events at the UN, including the Commission of Inquiry report and developments in the Security Council, Human Rights Council (HRC) and the UN General Assembly (UNGA).  Key developments are the recommendations by the HRC and the UNGA that North Korea be referred to the International Criminal Court and the opening of the UN Office in Seoul dedicated to documenting human rights violations in North Korea.

The report then focuses on six topics:

  1. Freedom of movement – Kim Jong-un’s increased measures to prevent people leaving North Korea and China continues to send people back. Women are at risk of forced marriage and trafficking.
  2. Freedom of Information – the risks of accessing information or using technology to communicate with the outside world
  3. Labour Rights – North Korea refuses to join the International Labour Organisation and there are sub-par labour standards in Kaesong Industrial Complex
  4. Political Prisoner Camps – they still exist and they are still awful places where lots of people suffer and die
  5. Forced Labour – even if you aren’t in a political prison camp doesn’t mean you are free from the risk of punishment through forced labour
  6. Key International Actors – very brief mention of issues/events with the UN (already discussed), Japan (abductees), South Korea (family reunions) and US (sanctions and the Sony hacking case)

This is all very similar to last year’s entry. Last year’s entry had headings on torture and inhumane treatment and executions which are not in this year’s report. This year adds the new heading of forced labour. Updates of what has been happening at the UN level are new but the information about human rights violations is all familiar stuff. I’m a bit disappointed that there is no video to go along with this year’s entry.


Boom, Boom, Bomb – North Korea welcomes the new year

The big news today is that North Korea has claimed to have successfully tested a Hydrogen Bomb!

First signs of this came in the form of ‘earthquake’ readings coming from the northeastern North Korea. This was followed by an official statement issued by the North Korean regime around mid-day northeast Asia time announcing a successful H-bomb test.

The timing is thought to coincide with the upcoming birthday of Supreme Leader and with the New Year. Hip, Hip, Hooray!

My top 3 quotes from North Korea’s official statement:

It was confirmed that the H-bomb test conducted in a safe and perfect manner had no adverse impact on the ecological environment.


Since the appearance of the word hostility in the world there has been no precedent of such deep-rooted, harsh and persistent policy as the hostile policy the U.S. has pursued towards the DPRK.

The U.S. is a gang of cruel robbers which has worked hard to bring even a nuclear disaster to the DPRK, not content with having imposed the thrice-cursed and unheard-of political isolation, economic blockade and military pressure on it for the mere reason that it has differing ideology and social system and refuses to yield to the former’s ambition for aggression.


Nothing is more foolish than dropping a hunting gun before herds of ferocious wolves.

Before we all send our congratulatory messages to North Korea, however, some noted that we can’t be certain that North Korea did actually successfully test a H-bomb. The size of the explosion is also making some wonder if it is actually a H-bomb or that it might be just a small one. Tests in the coming days may help determine the authenticity of the claim but it could be that we won’t know for sure if this is true or if the North Korean regime is just trying to impress/scare the pants off everyone.

The epicentre of the earthquake that hit North Korea at 12:30pm AEDST

(picture sourceUSGS)

What is certain is that we can expect a lot of speculation and punditry on this in the next few days, or until some other more terrible/exciting news comes along to sweep it off the headlines.


“No-one asked for the Un”

I had been planning to write a very serious, important, and insightful post about how the North Koreans had quickly returned the conversation from human rights and back to the familiar territory of missiles following the release of the UN Commission of Inquiry’s report on human rights abuses in North Korea. But then I too got distracted:

North Korean officials have complained to a hairstylist in London for using a picture of Kim Jong-un in a promotional poster in the window of the salon. Further proof, if needed that North Korean officials in UK really have very little to do. From all accounts, the North Korean officials spotted the poster by chance because the salon is near the embassy.  I wonder where the North Korean’s were going or coming from when they saw the poster.

Poster of Kim Jong-un in the salon

(Poster at M&M Hair Academy)

There is an interview on Radio 4 via the BBC London site. My favourite line in the interview was the hairdresser’s comment that, even though the poster had brought in some business, “No-one asked for the Un“. The Independent soon set this to rights by sending an intrepid reporter to get the Un. Personally I preferred his original cut – the Un looks a bit too boyish. But it looks better on the journalist than it does on Kim.

The update yesterday was that North Korean officials have now asked the UK Foreign Office to do something. The Evening Standard thought that the Foreign Office might refer the diplomats to the police. I hope they do because reports suggest that both the North Korean officials and the hairdresser have already reported the incident to the police. Some totally unhelpful advice from the UK government would fit perfectly into the narrative of an already ridiculous series of events.


Navi Pillay calls for international investigation on North Korea’s human rights violations

UN Human Rights Chief, Navi Pillay has come out in support for an ‘international investigation’ on North Korea. I am assuming that ‘international investigation’ is a Commission on Inquiry. A CoI, is the main call of the International Coalition to Stop Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK) so they must be happy with the statement. Although its unclear yet what action Pillay will, or can take, to bring the CoI argument forward.

In other news, Park Geun-hye has stated that she will look to boost ties with UK and France on North Korea relations.


China reads the Onion (and believes it)

The Onion news article awarding Kim Jong Un the accolade of Sexiest Man Alive for 2012 was a pretty amusing article. But no where near as funny as finding out that China believed it. The China People’s Daily has done a tribute to the pseudo Sexiest Man Alive 2012 by means of a photo slide show.

(Image source)

I guess what is most scary is how the Chinese editors/management at China’s People Daily didn’t pause and think, ‘this doesn’t quite sound right’? But then again, the China People’s Daily has never know for its journalistic integrity anyway.


Interview with Kim Jong Il’s nephew, Kim Han Sol

Finnish TV got a huge scoop by getting an interview with the baby-faced nephew of Kim Jong Il, Kim Han Sol. Its starts in Finnish but the interview itself is in English at about 1:30mins. Its in two parts. He mentions about growing up in Macau/North Korea and his decision to move to Bosnia-Herzegovina to study. Its seems strange though that someone so young has decided to come out and show himself to be very much antithetical to the image of the Kim dynasty. There should be some motivation behind agreeing to do this interview but its not clear (to me) what that rationale is.

My top five guesses on why he agreed to be interviewed (in no particular order):

1. He wants to oust Kim Jong Un and is now drumming up support of the international community to help him over throw his uncle.

2. Getting on TV is a great way to meet girls

3. He wants to help free North Korea

4. He got paid to be interviewed

5. A combination of one or more of these

July 2018
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