A recent warning posted publicly in North Korea earlier in the year warned citizens of “strict punishment” up to and including execution for engaging in the trafficking of counterfeit medicine and alcohol, a photo obtained by NK News this week revealed.
The sign — spotted at two locations in-country — was produced and distributed by the Ministry of People’s Security (MPS), North Korea’s top law enforcement body, and is dated June 11, 2019.
The order, which the sign says is handed down by the country’s central government, says the rules are meant to put a stop to behavior which threatens “political stability and the social order of the socialist system and violates the people’s life health.”
“Some people who only care about making money, are making, smuggling, or even trafficking fake goods including fake alcohol, low-quality medicines, and low-quality food,” it says.
Citizens are warned not to “make, smuggle, or traffick the fake goods, including fake alcohol and fake medicines,” as well as against producing “low-quality medicines and food, in which the quality, hygiene, and safety are not guaranteed.”
Those that violate the order, it continues, can receive lenient sentences should they confess within a month of the proclamation being issued.
In cases of serious violations, however, the “death penalty can be applied,” and those accused can expect to see their families “deported and banished.”
“People who violate this proclamation will be arrested and strictly handled by law, regardless of their positions, affiliations, and contributions [to the country],” it warns.
“[All] money, facilities, and resources that were used in the illegal acts will be forfeited, and the production and trading will be stopped or shut down.”
The death penalty is widely applied in North Korea, with the country’s penal code mandating it as an appropriate punishment for everything from sedition to the smuggling of narcotics.
The poster speaks to broader issues in North Korea concerning counterfeit goods and their trafficking, as well as the ability of manufacturers to bypass health and safety regulations.
It warns companies against producing goods and medicines that have not been subject to “inspection, examination, and approval from sanitary and quarantine agency, quality-monitoring agency, and medicine-testing agency.”
“In addition, do not supply, use, or traffic the products and medicines which are not inspected, tested, approved, or if the product has passed the expiry date.”
Similar warnings have been spotted on display in the DPRK in the past, with an MPS poster seen by NK News last year warning of “severe punishment” for those that sold bootleg liquor and operated illegal businesses.
The Korean-language service of the United States government-funded Radio Free Asia (RFA) also earlier in the year obtained a similar warning to the one seen by NK News this week, reportedly distributed near jangmadang in North Hamgyong province.
The new poster also hints at problems with law enforcement corruption in the country, with some of the clauses suggesting that police and legal institutions have failed to adequately crack down on the issue.
“Legal agencies, and control and supervision agencies, should… not overlook the acts of smuggling, trafficking, and making fake goods and fake medicines, including fake alcohol and medicines,” it stresses.
“Control and supervision agencies,” it continues, must not “receive money and goods to acquiesce, encourage, or protect the offense.”
One expert said the warning spoke to just how widespread the smuggling of counterfeit goods have become in North Korea, noting that China has faced similar issues in the past.
“This problem is compounded by a judicature and regulatory authorities not subject to proper oversight,” Peter Ward, a writer and researcher focused on the North Korean economy, told NK News.
“You can see this in article 3b., where regulatory authorities are ordered to not be corrupted by connections to those engaged in the faking of goods,” he continued.
This, Ward argued, was “a clear sign that not only the production and sale of bootleg pharma, alcohol et al. is a problem, but it is lucrative and some of the proceeds are used to keep regulators from putting a stop to it.”
“What is also interesting is that this crime appears to be so widespread or at least such a major social problem that those involved can be executed, and their families sent into internal exile,” he added.
The new warning, another expert noted, had appeared in public in the weeks following a series of articles in ruling party organ the Rodong Sinmun underlining the importance of adhering to the law — as well the DPRK leader’s recent expressions of frustration at bureaucratic mismanagement.
“Kim Jong Un has also been observed to criticize functionaries’ attitudes,” Minyoung Lee, an analyst with NK News‘s sister site NK Pro, said.
“This type of notice helps put into perspective why the party daily published such articles, and why Kim said what he did.”
“This clearly speaks to the prevalence of counterfeiting in North Korea, and that it has reached a point where the authorities have to take action to curb it,” she added.
Jeongmin Kim contributed translation
Edited by James Fretwell
Featured image: NK News