5 Insane Petty Crimes Committed by North Korea
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 ...
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.
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.
"Are you staring at my rock, or my cock?"
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.'"
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.
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.
A Counterfeit Dollar Industry
As a man who is not above murdering his uncle and partying with Dennis Rodman, Kim Jong-un is the kind of guy who knows a thing or two about straight-up madness. This element of what-the-shit-did-he-do-now unpredictability has played a large part in keeping him (and his dad, and his granddad) in power, and everyone around him in a state of mild worry and/or barely concealed amusement, depending on his latest antics. That's why it was never really a surprise that the Kims got into the counterfeit-money business. It's just the perfect mix of supervillain plotting and silly "crayons in basement" dabbling. What is surprising, however, is that they are pretty damn great at it.
North Korea, while able to fuck up almost every other concept in existence, appears to be something of an idiot savant when it comes to fake money. Particularly, fake American money. Their counterfeit $100 bills, manufactured by our old friends in Office 39, are so convincing the U.S. State Department refers to them as "supernotes." Because they are so well made, nobody can say for sure how many there are in circulation. If you have a $100 bill in your wallet right now, it might be a North Korean fake, and chances are you'd never realize it.
The spy camera might be a giveaway.
For instance, you know who is really, really good at identifying bullshit money? That's right, Las Vegas casinos. Well, tell that to the North Korean agent who managed to feed millions of dollars worth of these supernotes into the economy through slot machines in various Vegas casinos. Just flat-out fooled all the electronic fraud detection systems each slot machine is equipped with.
And that was just one guy. It looks like there's a lot of fake North Korean manufactured American cash making rounds, and their diplomats are apparently crazy busy changing these fake super dollars into boring, ordinary real dollars they can ship back to the precious homeland. This means that, technically, American money is financing Kim Jong-un's bullshit. It also means that, since it took the U.S. Treasury three years and two failed print runs just to produce the new bills, it looks like North Korea is actually better at printing U.S. dollars than America is.
"Fuck it, we're switching to Dogecoins."
A Bizarre Money-Laundering Restaurant Chain
OK, so North Korea is not above shady dealings in acquiring its money. But how can it actually use any of that cash? No matter how isolated and ridiculous your country is, even oppressive dictatorial regimes need to have at least a modicum of legitimacy behind their financial streams.
Have to keep up appearances, lest people get suspicious.
The answer is simple: Launder that shit.
Now, when we imagine money laundering, we imagine a shady, "secretly" mafia-owned restaurant that seems to be doing just fine despite its grumpy owner and borderline inedible food. North Korea's spin on the theme is that exact thing, only with tons and tons and tons of balls-out insane, semi-hostile restaurants.
"Come eat at Glorious Leader's Bar and Grill! This is not a request!"
The Pyongyang restaurants are counted in the dozens, in locations ranging from China to Thailand to Cambodia. These weird eateries are more or less the only places outside North Korea proper where you can enjoy authentic North Korean culture and cuisine. This is just as awesome as it sounds, which is to say, pretty freaking terrifying: The menu includes lovely items such as dog meat, icy noodles, sea cucumber booze, and crappy rice. The wonderful entertainment -- one of the main "draws" of the restaurants -- consists of North Korean girls performing traditional, heavily synchronized North Korean robo-dances wearing traditional robes and fixed, emotionless smiles. You can buy suspicious wine, $120 pills that "cure anything," and "authentic bear products" that totally improve any and all boning-related activities. In true North Korea fashion, cameras are not allowed in Pyongyang restaurants. Upstairs, where Westerners are banned from entering, strange things take place behind closed doors and the occasional armed guard.
Yeah, we weren't kidding about North Korea just taking the "Vito's Pizza Place" method of money laundering and turning it into an international business. Every single menu item is impressively overpriced, and it's a public secret that the chain's only raison d'etre is to act as a giant money laundry.
"One order of fries and a Diet Coke, your total comes to $18,657."
"Oh, wait, I have a dollar off coupon!"
So far, this batshit insane scheme seems to be working, to the point that a sizable chunk of the chain's loyal customers are South Korean. Because if you can't pay ridiculous prices to eat the shitty dog meat soup of your worst enemy, then how can you remember why you hate them?
Related Reading: North Korea pretty much proves that our species won't reach Mars anytime soon. If you'd like to see what kind of video game this mad hermit state produces click here and read this article. And while we're at it, here are the four requirements of North Korean propraganda.