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Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
The heads of two Russian construction companies sent gifts to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last week to celebrate the DPRK’s upcoming 70th National Day, the front page of Thursday’s Rodong Sinmun reported.
In addition to the general manager of “CK Dalpitserstroi Company Ltd.,” the GM of “CK Ilgar Company Ltd.” and chief of the “Russian Group for Solidarity with the DPRK” also presented gifts to Kim via Pyongyang’s ambassador to Russia, the report, originally carried by state outlet KCNA on Thursday, reads.
Notably, “CK Dalpiterstroi,” better known in English as SK Dalpiterstroy (СК Дальпитерстрой), is a large St. Petersburg-based construction company known for its use of North Korean laborers – specifically in the construction of the Saint Petersburg Stadium built for this year’s FIFA World Cup.
The company’s use of DPRK laborers at the stadium, also known as Krestovsky Stadium or Zenit Arena, was detailed in a 2017 investigative report by the Norwegian outlet Josimar, which found at least 60 North Korean workers were sent to the site to work for Dalpiterstroy in the summer of 2016.
The report said other DPRK workers made up “a significant amount of the workforce” at an apartment complex construction site in a nearby St. Petersburg suburb.
One worker at this site told Josimar: “They are like robots. All they do is work, work, work. They work from seven in the morning until midnight. Every single day. They are never off. They are very good workers, but they look unhappy. They have no life.”
There were reports of deaths of workers at the site as well, though Josimar could not confirm official numbers or if any were from North Korea.
Just last month, however, Russian outlet 78.ru reported that a 33-year-old North Korean man had died after falling from “a great height” at another Dalpiterstroy apartment construction site in the Vyborgsky district of St. Petersburg – suggesting the company still uses DPRK labor.
Responding to previous reports of poor working conditions at the stadium for Dalpiterstroy’s North Korean laborers, the company’s deputy director Alexander Romanov spoke to Russian outlet Nevastroyka in late 2016.
In the interview, Romanov confirmed the company’s use of North Korean workers and said they were working on “almost every site” the company runs, but also said they work only eight to ten-hour days and even receive paid vacation once per year.
“Construction workers of the DPRK are industrious, disciplined, and organized people. Give them freedom, they would work around the clock,” he added, expressing his hope their partnership would “last a very long time.”
NK News attempted to contact the St. Petersburg offices of Dalpiterstroy Thursday morning for comment, but calls to the company went unanswered.
CK Ilgar (СК ИЛГАР), the other company mentioned in the KCNA article, is a Moscow-based construction company, though no clear ties to North Korean laborers have been publicized in the past.
If the KCNA report is accurate, the men who would have presented the gifts to the North Korean ambassador – who are not named in the article – would likely be Dalpiterstroy director Skorov Arkadiy and Ilgar CEO Nesterovich Ruslan.
Under UN sanctions Resolution 2397 passed at the end of last year, member states must expel all North Korean workers from their territory by December 22, 2019, adding to previous resolutions banning the signing of new contracts or extension of existing ones.
Russia’s ambassador to North Korea Alexander Matsegora told reporters in February that his country would begin complying with the latest sanctions measures.
But in late July, head of the Ministry for the development of the Russian Far East Alexander Kozlov raised alarms when reports emerged that he had recently approved extensions of over 3000 North Korean workers’ contracts in the region.
Earlier this month, too, a report in The Wall Street Journal found that over 10,000 new North Korean workers registered in Russia in 2018.
Citing records from the Russian Interior Ministry, the report also said at least 700 new work permits had been issued, which would violate international sanctions if indeed brand new contracts were signed.
Neither company appeared in the most recent statistics covering company guest worker registration released in July by the Russian Ministry of Labor.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: NK News