Some North Korean traders are enjoying a booming business by illegally importing motor vehicles from neighboring China and using them to ferry passengers stranded by frequent rail stoppages, according to sources inside the country .
Since Pyongyang does not allow private citizens to own motor vehicles, these merchants illegally buy them from China through corrupt North Korean trade officials, the sources said.
They bribe border officials to smuggle the vehicles into the country, and register them with local companies for a fee, the sources said.
The vehicles are then used to ferry passengers who are charged high fees, they said.
Local citizens had previously relied on trains for transportation, but electric power shortages have crippled the train service, a resident of Yanggang province told RFA’s Korean Service, speaking on condition of anonymity.
A source in North Hamgyeong said a similar scheme in that province has placed the official Foreign Currency Trading Office and People’s Committee Trade Bureau in opposition to each other for their share of the trade.
North Korean trade offices make arrangements to bring in “between 4-5 Chinese used vehicles each month,” including vans, passenger cars, and buses, he said.
“This trade is not allowed by the authorities, but these offices have made a secret deal with the Customs Office, which they pay U.S. $1,000 for each vehicle brought in.”
Another source in North Hamgyeong said that used vans can be purchased from China for about U.S. $5,000 and then sold to rich businessmen for about U.S. $8,000.
“From this profit on each vehicle, about U.S. $1,000 is paid to the Customs Office as a bribe, with the rest pocketed by the importing company,” the source said.
The trade offices arranging to illegally bring in the cars have “a good relationship” with Chinese used-car dealers and can often buy on credit, he added.
Though North Korean authorities try to prevent individuals from doing business in this way, the practice has now become too widespread to stop, he said.
Impoverished North Korea relies on China for vital economic aid and trade.
Official Chinese data showed that bilateral trade has been increasing annually since 2000 to hit nearly U.S. $6 billion in 2011.
Reported by Sung Hui Moon for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Bong Park. Written in English by Richard Finney.