North Korean Gangsters Extort 'Fees' From Truckers, Merchants

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A North Korean farmer pulls her daughter in a cart on the way to a weekly market in a file photo.
A North Korean farmer pulls her daughter in a cart on the way to a weekly market in a file photo.
Thomas Gutschker/DPA

Gangsters operating at a major local market in North Korea’s Chongjin city are extorting money from truck drivers and local merchants, charging them large “fees” for permission to transport their goods, sources in the sanctions-hit country say.

The gangsters target trucks that leave early in the morning to carry bulk goods from Chongjin’s Sunam market to other parts of the country, a source in North Hamgyong province told RFA’s Korean Service.

“They do not allow trucks to approach certain areas near the market, and only the trucks that pay them money are allowed to drive up to the market to load the goods they need to deliver,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The gangsters, many of them former convicts, demand payment ranging from 1,000 to 5,000 Chinese yuan (U.S. $149 to $224), and give 40 percent of what they take to police officers working at the market, the source said.

Truck drivers traveling to Chongjin from cities such as Musan, Hoeryong, and Kyongsong are also hit, he said, “as they usually stop at the Sunam market to fill up with local goods to avoid driving back with an empty truck.”

Merchants traveling long distances on business are meanwhile blocked from using service vans by men demanding pay, a second source from North Hamgyong said.

“These thugs make secret arrangements with the police officers and extort money from merchants and truck drivers who are in a hurry,” the source said, also speaking on condition he not be named.

“Merchants and truck drivers are becoming increasingly resentful of this situation,” he said.

Running a market stand in Sunam market in Chongjin—North Korea’s third-largest city—can generate profits “as high as those earned by foreign-currency generating organizations,” one source from North Hamgyong told RFA in an earlier report.

To take advantage of the prospect of high profits, officials in North Korea’s ruling Korean Workers’ Party ignore regulations that prohibit them from entering business in local market stalls and illegally rent stands out to the public at high rates, the source said.

Reported by Jieun Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Lillian Andemicael.





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