Put the champagne bottle down and cease all premature celebrations. Recent announcements of a spate of North Korean defectors, some of whom were from the core class, are not necessarily any harbingers of regime collapse. More likely it is merely a few cadres beginning to understand that things might be turning against them, and – seeing an opportunity to avoid potential problems – make off with whatever they can.
With this string of defections, now is the time to find out what information we can extract from these financial insiders regarding Kim Jong Un’s personal cash caches overseas. I can think of no reason why we ought not to be able to pursue this enough to firstly, severely disrupt Kim’s private purse, and secondly, expose the institutions that abet them in hiding his secret hoards.
After all, it is the SWIFT system (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) that facilitates the movement of Kim’s funds from one bank to another, and every electronic financial transaction via SWIFT is traceable.
As an example for Americans, take a look at your personal checks to find that long list of numbers, usually toward the bottom and to the left for U.S. banks. That first set of numbers is the ABA (American Banking Association) number. ABA and SWIFT numbers are both nine digits in length, but ABAs are used domestically in the U.S., while SWIFT numbers are used in international transactions.
After all, it is the SWIFT system (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) that facilitates the movement of Kim’s funds from one bank to another
For money to be electronically transferred, there must be a sending financial institution’s SWIFT number and a receiving financial institution’s SWIFT number. And to identify any transfer, there is a transaction number. Some receipts for electronic payment in the U.S. contain the actual transaction number itself.
In 2015, the U.S. was able to judicially cross borders and force Swiss banks, through the threat of fines, to cough up data on American depositors hiding money overseas. That sets a precedent. Is there an international authority for search warrants: perhaps the United Nations? One might scoff that the UN is corrupt and inept and that China could block any such maneuver at the Security Council level anyway.
Assuming we can keep those defectors with financial knowledge healthy, we have a gold-mine of information at hand.
But there is still Interpol, which given the UN’s recent declaration that North Korea is involved in money laundering as well as other proscribed activities, could pursue the matter as a crime. Using some form of a search warrant – if one is needed in the first place – it ought to be relatively easy to get a list of accounts held by North Koreans in any bank using the SWIFT system. And if banks do not cooperate, they ought to face sanctions, like Banco Delta Asia in 2005.
Now we have those defectors with insider knowledge, a pesky problem for Kim Jong Un. We should now at least have a few starting points – the identities of some of the financial institutions used by Pyongyang. As an aside regarding those defectors, because of what they know, it ought to be expected that Pyongyang will send agents looking to “muzzle” them. Assuming we can keep those defectors with financial knowledge healthy, we have a gold-mine of information at hand.
Any forensic financial analyst worth even a North Korean won ought to be able to unravel the threads of what I would expect to be complex or circuitous routings. It would be a piece of cake to trace straight-forward point-to-point transactions. And even if there are multiple “relay points” or prior-to-end-point “distributions” that attempt to confuse anyone following the money, good analysis will isolate the transfers that attempt to conceal the true sources and the real destinations.
We have always had the tools; we now have – or should have – identified starting points. Perhaps the problem is already being worked behind the scenes so as not to tip anyone off: let us hope so!
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Featured Image: 63p of North Korean money by James Cridland on 2010-01-08 06:43:58