North Korea’s regime is distributing special monthly payments in U.S. currency via a cash card system to high-ranking military officers in a bid to maintain loyalty, according to a source inside the country.
The payments can be spent at stores and restaurants equipped with card readers which accept foreign currency, the source told RFA’s Korean Service Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Since last year, North Korean generals in the military have been receiving a U.S. dollar cash cards every month,” said the source, who claims to have wide knowledge of the North Korean military.
“This is Kim Jong Un’s new instruction to guarantee a good lifestyle for the generals,” he said, referring to the country’s young “Supreme Leader” who took power after his father Kim Jong Il’s death in December 2011.
According to the source, four-star generals in the North Korean military receive around U.S. $1,200 each month on their cards, while three-star generals get U.S. $1,000 and two-star generals make U.S. $700. These payments are on top of their monthly salaries.
The special payments drawn by the generals dwarf the average government worker’s monthly salary of about 2,000 to 6,000 won (U.S. $0.70 to $2 based on prevailing market rates).
“The amount of cash on the card depends on the person’s level in the military,” the source said.
“When you have spent all of the cash, the card gets recharged again the following month. I’m not sure whether the provider is ‘Office 39’ of the Workers’ Party or the General Logistics Bureau.”
Office 39 of the ruling Workers Party is believed to maintain a foreign currency slush fund, while the General Logistics Bureau controls logistics, support, and procurement activities for the massive North Korean military.
The source said that recipients of the cash card are not limited to generals, but also include other high-level officers from a unit that directs infiltration activities by North Korean military agents in South Korea and another unit that is in charge of “electronic combat” in the General Reconnaissance Bureau.
“A colonel in the General Reconnaissance Bureau is able to spend up to U.S. $400 a month on the card,” the source said.
“A high-ranking military officer who is not a general can receive U.S. currency on a card if he is in charge of an important duty.”
There are a number of stores and restaurants where recipients can spend their cash in the capital Pyongyang, the source said.
Generals can also use their cards at guesthouses in seaside resort cities like Cheongjin in North Hamgyong province and Hamheung in South Hamgyong province, which only cater to officers of their rank.
For their convenience, card readers have been set up at places where foreign currency is traded, he said.
Reports of the cash card system come amidst international condemnation of North Korea’s successful tests of a long-range rocket in December and a nuclear device earlier this month.
The tests came in defiance of two United Nations Security Council resolutions, and several countries have since called for increased sanctions against North Korea, including those that would tighten economic restrictions on the already impoverished nation.
The source in North Korea said that the policy of offering U.S. currency cash cards to generals was part of a bid to ensure the military’s continued loyalty to the regime.
A former soldier surnamed Kim who had defected from North Korea told RFA that he was aware of a special “daily distribution plan,” and had even heard of private cars and luxury mansions being offered to high-ranking officers in the military.
But he said that the cash scheme was newly developed under Kim Jong Un.
“There was a daily system in which a car from the General Logistics Bureau drove around to residences of generals and provided meat, rice, and groceries to them,” Kim said.
“But I’ve never before heard of the North Korean regime giving away U.S. dollars to generals.”
Reported by Young Jung for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Goeun Yu. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.