Tourists put $43M in Kim Jong-Un’s pockets last year

Despite a string of high-profile arrests of foreign tourists recently, Darwin’s light continues to draw slummers — and record hauls of their money — into Pyongyang:

North Korea earned tens of millions of dollars from foreign tourists in 2014, around half of the hard currency it won from the lucrative inter-Korean industrial park, a researcher said Sunday.

North Korea’s income from foreign tourists is estimated at US$30.6 million to $43.6 million last year, considering about 95,000 Chinese tourists and 5,000 tourists from Western countries visited the country, Yoon In-ju of the Korea Maritime Institute said in a paper.

North Korea’s annual income from the Kaesong Industrial Complex in the North’s border town of Kaesong, accommodating 124 South Korean firms that employ more than 50,000 North Korean workers, reached $86 million in 2014. [Yonhap]

For years, the peddlers of North Korea tours have fended off moral and ethical questions about their funding of a brutal, repressive regime by saying that their contribution to Pyongyang’s finances was negligible.

Trips aren’t cheap either – four nights can cost around £1,000 excluding flights – and it is a profitable enterprise for all involved. But those working in the industry argue that the money trickling through to the government is small – and if they were to cease operations tomorrow the impact on the regime would be negligible. [The Guardian]

Few journalists ever asked the tour companies to show us their books, but now we know that tourism is, in fact, a non-negligible source of income for the regime. It’s time to take a fresh look at whether the tour companies’ payments to Pyongyang violate U.N. Security Council sanctions, which prohibit the payment of funds that “could be used” for North Korea’s WMD programs or luxury goods purchases.

“11.  Decides that Member States shall, in addition to implementing their obligations pursuant to paragraphs 8 (d) and (e) of resolution 1718 (2006), prevent the provision of financial services or the transfer to, through, or from their territory, or to or by their nationals or entities organized under their laws (including branches abroad), or persons or financial institutions in their territory, of any financial or other assets or resources, including bulk cash, that could contribute to the DPRK’s nuclear or ballistic missile programmes, or other activities prohibited by resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), or this resolution, or to the evasion of measures imposed by resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), or this resolution, including by freezing any financial or other assets or resources on their territories or that hereafter come within their territories, or that are subject to their jurisdiction or that hereafter become subject to their jurisdiction, that are associated with such programmes or activities and applying enhanced monitoring to prevent all such transactions in accordance with their national authorities and legislation; [….]


“14.  Expresses concern that transfers to the DPRK of bulk cash may be used to evade the measures imposed in resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), and this resolution, and clarifies that all States shall apply the measures set forth in paragraph 11 of this resolution to the transfers of cash, including through cash couriers, transiting to and from the DPRK so as to ensure such transfers of bulk cash do not contribute to the DPRK’s nuclear or ballistic missile programmes, or other activities prohibited by resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), or this resolution, or to the evasion of measures imposed by resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), or this resolution; [U.N. Security Council Resolution 2094]

Whether the tour companies are violating U.N. sanctions, and the domestic laws of the countries from which they operate, depends on the answers to questions that regulators and reporters aren’t asking: How do these tour companies pay Pyongyang? What currencies do they use? Most importantly, where does the money go, and what is it used for? Governments have ethical, moral, and legal obligations to ask those questions, and to demand clear answers backed by credible evidence. It’s past time for U.S., U.K., and EU authorities to audit the tour companies, and to block payments by any third-country tour companies that refuse to show that they’re complying with U.N. sanctions.