Authorities at Vladivostok’s Pervomaisky customs post on Tuesday detained a North Korean citizen for bringing USD$180,000 in undeclared cash into Russia, local customs officials reported.
The money – more than 18 times the legal limit – was being kept in black plastic bags, photos released by customs suggest.
Article 200.1 of Russia’s criminal code proscribes four years’ “limitation of freedom of movement” or “mandatory public works” for the crime of “Illegal movement of cash… committed on a large scale” and a fine of up 15 times the amount illegally brought into the country.
“As of now, the money which had been illegally taken into the country was seized,” a statement by the Vladivostok customs press service read.
“They are deliberating on opening a criminal case, per the article ‘contraband of cash money in extremely large quantities.'”
The North Korean entered the country, the statement continued, on a DPRK-flagged ship sailing from the north eastern port of Chongjin – a hub for DPRK-Russia trade.
The port city is home to 55 Russian employees of Rajin’s RasonConTrans JV – a joint venture which oversees DPRK-Russia coal trade.
Asya Berezhnaya, a spokesperson for Vladivostok customs told NK News that the North Korean man had served as captain of a ship she called the “Tu Ru Bong 2.”
The Tu Ru Bong 2 is a reefer vessel, which is a type of ship that transports refrigerated cargo. The vessel is owned and managed by the Korea Tumangang Shipping Company, according to the Equasis shipping database and it is listed as being based out of Chongjin.
Inspection records show that the vessel has been a frequent visitor to Russian ports in the last few years, with inspections taking place in Vladivostok and Nakhodka.
Spokesperson Berezhnaya was not able to confirm whether local authorities have been in contact with the North Korean consulate in Vladivostok, which did not respond to NK News‘s requests for comment.
She was also unable to say whether authorities had determined a motive for the crime.
One local expert said Tuesday’s case was unusual and may have been the work of North Koreans working outside of Pyongyang’s purview.
“The North Korean government has a very safe method to transfer large amounts of cash using diplomatic pouches that enjoy immunity from border inspections,” Artyom Lukin, an international relations scholar at the Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok, told NK News.
“And in this case the amount of cash involved is relatively large. It might well have been someone’s private business.”
Two extradition treaties between the DPRK and Russia signed in December last year, allow citizens sentenced to more than six-months’ imprisonment to be transferred, if they request it, to serve the rest of their sentence in their countries of origin.
Those treaties, however, are only applicable to those sentenced to imprisonment, not those sentenced to, as Tuesday’s detainee may be, “limitation of freedom of movement.”
Tuesday’s arrest comes amid increasing trade and economic ties between North Korea and authorities in Russia’s Far East.
A North Korean foreign ministry official in September expressed the country’s intention to open a “trading house” in the Russian Far East region of Primorye to promote trade of domestic goods, according to the official website of the region.
That meeting also saw DPRK officials point to the construction of a border crossing and a bridge “connecting the stations of Khasan and Tumangang” as further evidence of the two country’s growing ties.
North Korean citizens also now benefit from a “simplified” free electronic visa when entering Russia via the “territory of the free port of Vladivostok.”
A new freight shipping service between the DPRK’s Rajin Port and Vladivostok Port, too, was reported to have begun in September – operated by the local InvestStroiTrest company.
Edited by Colin Zwirko
Fyodor Tertitskiy contributed reporting
Featured Image: Vladivostok 21 by Alexxx1979 on 2015-08-05 13:08:32