Two North Korean nationals with diplomatic passports were caught smuggling North Korean health products through Mongolia.
Mongolian authorities did not reveal whether the smugglers were serving as diplomats, only that they held diplomatic passports. The two North Koreans could therefore be family members or independent agents.
North Korean diplomats are, in theory, managed by the Foreign Ministry. But diplomatic personnel actually receive their orders directly from and report to the all-powerful National Defense Committee.
Selection of future diplomats is limited to students of three schools: Pyongyang Foreign Languages School, Kim Il-sung University foreign languages departments or the International Relations University. Candidates don’t apply, they are notified of their nomination.
Once nominations have been made to the Central Party, the Central Party Cadres Section 1 checks their birth class and sends a shortlist to the Foreign Ministry.
Further checks are made to ensure that no relatives or ancestors were political criminals or supporters of South Korea during the war. These associations will automatically disqualify a nominee, says an ex-DPRK diplomat once based in Zambia.
Most diplomats of other countries receive privileges and support from their home country, but it is not a secret that North Korean diplomats have to earn their keep by conducting business in private.
From ambassadors to secretaries, diplomatic personnel engage in activities such as selling alcohol, getting their wives to do the cooking or selling goods locally. North Korean embassies or consulates often cannot afford to employ local staff.
Another ex-DPRK diplomat who was based in in Sweden tells us, “We didn’t receive diplomatic funds. When there were any, the money went into pockets of higher-ups back home. There were times when we were ordered to procure fertilizer, for instance, but had nothing to buy it with.”
Although he is supposed to represent the country, these circumstances often tempt a North Korean diplomat to resort to illegal activities, such as engagement in the drugs trade or the smuggling and sale of other goods.
This not only negatively impacts the country’s image, but can even be fatal for the diplomat concerned.
A few years ago, a North Korean diplomat based in Pakistan engaged in secret trade deals that resulted in the murder of his wife.
It was found that this had happened because, when the DPRK failed to send funds, the diplomat smuggled goods through the diplomatic bag and tried to sell them in the local underground markets.
The North Korean diplomat had planned to earn a living as well as to send his child to school abroad.
According to a Mongolian Customs statement on July 22nd, the two North Koreans found smuggling health products by train on the 19th are currently undergoing investigation by police.
Apart from one thousand boxes of vaccinations, there were twelve boxes full of products labelled ‘Bear Gall’ in Korean, and what was suspected to be powdered pine pollen labelled ‘Hansong’ in Korean.