Due largely to inadequate government funding, North Korean diplomats posted abroad have long resorted to “creative” solutions to generate their operating budgets. The North Korean government set up the majority of its embassies, especially those in the developing world, during the height of the competition with South Korea for votes in the United Nations. Pyongyang could not properly fund its embassies and therefore established this self-reliant policy for its diplomats. North Korean diplomats truly embodied the Juche spirit, the North Korean ideology which is often translated as “self-reliance” in Western publications, but it was out of necessity, rather than devotion, to the Kim Family regime.
In Pakistan, DPRK embassy staff did this by exploiting local religious laws and customs. The Muslim majority in Pakistan is restricted from drinking alcohol. However, a thriving black market for liquor exists and North Korean diplomats in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital city, and Karachi, the largest city in Pakistan, have been eager purveyors of the stuff since the 1970s.
Back then, North Koreans posted there bought alcohol at diplomat-only stores in Pakistan and then sold it on the black market but it appears that the North Korean embassy in Islamabad now imports large quantities of alcohol from abroad.
Recently, NK News obtained a report from the Pakistan Federal Board of Revenue, which details the North Korean embassy in Islamabad’s imports of alcohol from September 2012 to April 2013. During this seven-month period, North Korea’s embassy imported 42.05 metric tons of alcohol spread out over eight separate shipments from ports in the United Arab Emirates. (42.05 metric tons of alcohol is roughly equivalent to 56,000 bottles of whiskey.)
During this seven-month period, North Korea’s embassy imported 42.05 metric tons of alcohol spread out over eight separate shipments from ports in the United Arab Emirates.
The shipments varied in weight, with the smallest shipment weighing 2.96 metric tons and the largest weighing 9.38 metric tons. The North Koreans received an assortment of alcoholic beverages, ranging from 4% ABV (Alcohol by Volume) beer to 40% ABV liquor.
The consignor of the shipment, Dubai-based Truebell Marketing and Trading LLC, could not be reached for comment.
Needless to say, the North Korean bootlegging scheme has enraged both Pakistani and South Korean officials. In April 2013, Pakistan’s Express Tribune newspaper reported that the Defense Housing Authority (DHA) in Karachi was receiving complaints from residents over the North Korean consulate staff’s involvement in black-market alcohol. After an investigation, the DHA sent a letter of complaint to the Korean embassy. Unfortunately, reports indicate they sent it to the wrong Koreans.
The South Korean embassy alerted Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry of the mistake and requested that Pakistani officials stop the illegal activities of the North Korean diplomats. The North Korean embassy in Islamabad officially denied that its diplomats sold alcohol in Pakistan.
According to Simon Henderson, director of the Gulf and Energy Policy Program at the Washington Institute, North Korea was one of the main arms suppliers of the Pakistani military in the late 1970s. More recently, Pakistan reportedly sold information on uranium enrichment to North Korea. And now, the need to preserve sensitive military deals between Pyongyang and Islamabad have meant only frustration for the mid-level Pakistani officials who have been largely hamstrung in their efforts to stop the liquor sales.
Right across the border in India, where the Hindu majority considers cows sacred, North Korean diplomats also exploited local religious customs. However, alcohol is perfectly legal in India, so they wound up filling their own unique niche.
As Marcus Noland explained on his Witness to Transformation blog back in 2011, not all of North Korean diplomats’ money-making schemes are illegal.
Wrote Noland: “[M]y late father-in-law once explained that when he was posted to New Delhi it was well known in diplomatic circles that one could purchase beef at the North Korean embassy—they were operating an abattoir in the basement, though perhaps in violation of the Indian public health code.
Main picture: Flickr Creative Commons
Due largely to inadequate government funding, North Korean diplomats posted abroad have long resorted to “creative” solutions to generate their operating budgets. The North Korean government set up the majority of its embassies, especially those in the developing world, during the height of the competition with South Korea for votes in the United Nations. Pyongyang could not
Benjamin R. Young is an Assistant Professor at Dakota State University. He holds a Ph.D. from George Washington University, and focuses his research on modern Korea, Cold War international history, and Marxism in the Third World.