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North Korean Diplomats Use Immunity for Money-making Scheme

Kang Song Gun, a commercial counselor at North Korea’s consulate in Karachi, and a vehicle used by North Korean diplomats in Karachi.

North Korean diplomats in Pakistan caught selling liquor illegally are continuing the illicit activity by using their immunity status, multiple sources familiar with the subject said.

North Korean diplomats have frequently been suspected of engaging in illicit activities of various sorts to make up for inadequate government funding or to pay the so-called “loyalty payments” to the government in Pyongyang.

In April, a North Korean diplomat posted in the Pakistani city of Karachi was apprehended while trying to bring 855 boxes of duty-free liquor, nearly double the amount allowed, into the country.

A source in Pakistan Tuesday identified the diplomat as Kang Song Gun, a commercial counselor at North Korea’s consulate in Karachi.

In May 2015, another North Korean diplomat, Koh Hak Chol, a third secretary at the consulate, was apprehended by customs officials while carrying liquor that exceeded quotas, the source said. Pakistani officials questioned Koh for several hours but released him without charge. The Pakistani source said both Kang and Koh are still with the diplomatic mission.

Immunity abused

Another source in Pakistan said some North Korean diplomats who were arrested for illegal liquor selling continued the illicit activity after their release. Trading alcohol in a black market is an important money-making source for many North Korean diplomats although the sale of alcohol is strictly banned in the Muslim country, according to the source.

The United States is calling for enhanced vigilance against the practice, citing a U.N. Security Council resolution.

“UNSCR 2270 specifically highlights the need to exercise vigilance against DPRK diplomats engaged in illicit activity, and obligates member states to expel DPRK diplomatic personnel involved in sanctions evasion or UNSCR violations,” said Katina Adams, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, referring to the resolution adopted in March.

Repeated violations

There have been at least 10 confirmed cases of illegal liquor trade involving North Korean diplomats in Pakistan since 2009, another Pakistani source said.

In April 2015, a North Korean diplomat and his wife were caught selling liquor inside the upscale Defense Housing Authority (DHA) development in Karachi. In 2013, Pakistan’s Express Tribune newspaper reported Pakistani officials had investigated complaints that North Korean diplomats were selling alcohol at the complex.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA Korean Service.