Diplomats and Deceit – North Korea’s Criminal Activities in Africa
Julian Rademeyer
September 2017

A new report by The Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime lifts the lid on state-sanctioned North Korean criminal activity in Africa, exposing diplomats and embassies linked to illicit trade in rhino horn, ivory, cigarettes and minerals. 

Executive Summary

Much has been written about state-sponsored North Korean criminal activity in Asia and Europe. But relatively little attention has been devoted to North Korea’s illicit activities in Africa, which run the gamut from trafficking of rhino horn and ivory to gold and tobacco.

This report – which draws on hundreds of pages of documents, academic research, press reports and interviews with government officials, diplomats and defectors in Southern Africa and South Korea – presents an overview of evidence implicating North Korea in criminal activity ranging from smuggling and drug trafficking to the manufacturing of counterfeit money and black market cigarettes.

It examines North Korea’s current involvement in Africa, the complex history of African-North Korean relations and allegations that the country’s embassies in several African states are intimately connected to a complex web of illicit activity aimed at bolstering the Kim Jong-un regime and enriching cash-strapped diplomats.

An analysis of press reports and other publicly available information conducted by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime shows that North Korean diplomatic passport holders have been implicated in at least 18 cases of rhino horn and ivory smuggling in Africa since 1986. Despite North Korea’s waning influence on the continent, incriminating evidence linking its diplomats to ivory and rhino horn smuggling continues to emerge.

The report includes interviews with a number of high-level North Korean defectors about their knowledge of, and stated involvement in, a range of criminal activities. They claim that smuggling by North Korean diplomats is widespread, with couriers traveling regularly to Pyongyang and Beijing in China with diplomatic bags stuffed with contraband.

“[D]iplomats…would come from Africa carrying rhino horn, ivory and gold nuggets,” explained one defector who ran a North Korean front company in Beijing. “Every embassy [in Africa] was coming two or three times every year.”

The persistent abuse of diplomatic immunity by North Korean diplomats and agents poses a particularly vexing problem for law enforcement. Increasing economic sanctions and isolationist policies designed to cripple North Korea’s nuclear weapons capabilities are.

Read the full report: TGIATOC_Diplomats_and_Deceit_DPRK_Report_1868_web_