April 16, 2024

Grave-robbing in North Korea

How a major market for antiques made smugglers brave execution

“He did a lot of those illegal things, and so he became very rich” is a remark one can often hear from North Korean refugees when they talk about their business activities in the North. At first glance, this remark appears rather strange. According to the letter of the North Korean law, pretty much all private commercial activities in North Korea are illegal. A woman who sells produce from her private fields in the mountains is breaking the law, ditto another woman who sells shoes manufactured in one of the local private workshops. Needless to say, the owner and employees of said workshop are also engaged in activities that are technically illegal.

'…profits are high enough to make people willing to brave the risks'

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