North Korea's policies, attempts at propaganda, and even simple children's cartoons are a crash course in the kind of absurdity that would be hilarious if it wasn't so tragic. Thanks to its impressive madness (and, you know, all the human rights abuse and stuff), the land of Kim Jong-un enjoys a healthy reputation as something of a criminal country in the eyes of, well, pretty much everyone else.
But have you ever wondered what kind of criminal a country as inane as North Korea can possibly be? Because while Kim and his cronies indeed dabble in many dubious activities, they're less of a James Bond supervillain and more of a small-time crook in an Elmore Leonard novel, pathetically scheming their way through life in a series of increasingly desperate cons and schemes. Like ...
#5. Two Words: Meth Labs
Quick: Your time is running out, everyone's against you, and you've got mouths to feed. You have nothing left to lose -- what do you do?
It depends on whether you have a pork pie hat or a Wookiee.
If you're Walter White, you embark upon a life of crime and start making crystal meth. If you're Kim Jong-un, you ... do the exact same goddamn thing, actually. Yes, the Dear Leader of the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea is looking for revenue in the same way desperate fictional chemistry teachers and countless real-life criminals of the wife-beater-and-missing-teeth variety do. This is one of the many reasons Kim Jong-un has his trusty Office 39.
No one outside North Korea really knows what Office 39 is. It may be an actual office, or a massive bureau, or just some random roofless room that is filled with pigeon poop. Even the number 39 is an educated guess rather than a confirmed code. All we know about Office 39 is that it's a government sanctioned shadow organization dedicated entirely to one mission: shenanigans. And among other things, Office 39 is suspected of manufacturing roughly 600 pounds of crystal methamphetamine every year and selling the shit out of it.
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Pfft, Heisenberg knocked that out every two weeks.
As one would expect, the North Korean government officially claims absolutely no involvement in the manufacture and sale of methamphetamine. They would especially like to point out that they know nothing of the 40 pounds of 99 percent pure crystal meth that were confiscated in a drug bust last November in Seoul, South Korea. You know, the meth that the dealers explicitly retrieved from a North Korean warehouse just before selling it to an undercover DEA agent.
If you think that scene from a bad cop movie was just a fluke and North Korea usually handles its drug dealings with rather more tact, well, clearly you haven't been paying attention to the country's antics. They're carrying their wannabe drug kingpinship like they're a two-bit biker gang from the 1980s. Their strategy of drug distribution is throwing giant bags of meth at a bunch of their diplomats and ordering them to sell $300,000 worth of the stuff "to prove their loyalty and mark the birthday of nation founder Kim Il-sung." They literally expect their foreign representatives to celebrate a former dictator's birthday with the joyous task of peddling hard drugs in addition to whatever it is North Korean diplomats normally do (sulk in the corner at international meetings?). Reports don't state how well the diplomats generally perform in their task, but we think it's fair to assume they are surprisingly popular at parties.
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"Are you staring at my rock, or my cock?"
#4. Duffel Bags of Cash from Obvious Insurance Scams
When a country's entire regime turns to crime, there are many fearsome roads it can take. War crimes? Why, definitely! Large-scale oppression? Totally in the cards. International insurance fraud? Uh ... sure, North Korea. Whatever floats your boat.
It's no coincidence that North Korea is the world's largest importer of neck braces.
Meet Korea National Insurance Corp., the world's only government-sanctioned agency that specializes in the kind of crime your grandmother might try when she doesn't quite remember where she parked the Segway. In 2003 alone, this state-owned monopoly cheated insurance agencies from all over the world out of millions of dollars with various bogus claims. The $20 million it gained was stuffed into duffel bags as, yes, a birthday gift to Kim Jong-il, then leader of North Korea. A couple years later, a heavily insured helicopter conveniently crashed into an even more heavily insured government warehouse in Pyongyang, resulting in a $58 million payout from Lloyd's of London and several other agencies. Of course, everyone immediately assumed the "accident" was staged, but what can you do when the entire bureaucratic system of a goddamn country crosses its heart and swears to die if it didn't happen the way they say it did?
The way North Korea managed to set up insurance companies is actually pretty clever: To do business with them, you have to sign a waiver agreeing to abide by any and all North Korean laws no matter the circumstances, even if, as many companies found out way too late, said circumstances actively enable state-sanctioned insurance fraud. Distracted by their boner to secure the market of an entire country, many insurance firms accepted these terms -- and as a result, it's almost impossible to determine how much money North Korea has conned out of them, simply because the companies are too ashamed to disclose their losses.
"Man, this is embarrassing ... just put it under 'miscellaneous hooker theft.'"
#3. Counterfeit Cigarettes
Any smoker who has traveled the world knows the risk of buying cigarettes from a dodgy vendor. If you don't know what you're buying, those fake cancer sticks could contain anything, even stuff that's not quite as good at giving you cancer as the real thing. There are any amount of gangs and criminal groups in the counterfeit-cigarette business, and it's actually pretty lucrative.
You can tell by how North Korea is all up that shit.
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Nothing like the smooth taste of Llama Cigarettes.
Yep, the country that may or may not be a nuclear power and that enjoys presenting itself as a legitimate player on the global stage is actively participating in cigarette counterfeiting and smuggling, otherwise known as "the pettiest hobo crime this side of aggressive panhandling." Official estimates place up to 12 counterfeit cigarette factories in the country -- some of them state-owned, others operated by organized crime syndicates that pay Kim and his cohorts for safe haven. In other news, North Korea is totally allowing the mob to hang around in their backyard. Apparently, it's getting so bad that the U.S. State Department and investigators working for major tobacco companies have taken to referring to North Korea as the Soprano state for its lucrative "import/export" business of counterfeit cigarettes, thus earning it the distinction of being the first country that is so far removed from actual country-ing that it can accurately be compared to a fictional dysfunctional crime family.