SEOUL—North Korea is launching a crackdown on official corruption in its key mineral export sector, a crucial source of foreign exchange for a country where millions go hungry and the ruling party has total control of resources.
"[North Korea] is currently restructuring mineral exporting companies, because such trading entities have been found to be corrupt and inefficient and involved in various abuses," said the China-based representative of a company importing minerals from North Korea.
The source added that many importers dealing with North Korean exporters had been negatively affected by their lack of professionalism and reliability.
"The overwhelming majority of North Korean trading companies are involved in exports of minerals, so the need to revamp them is evident and understandable," the source said.
More than 58 percent of North Korea’s U.S. $1.13 billion exports in 2008 consisted of minerals and mining products.
The restructuring would target companies with unexplained gaps in their financial accounts and those that embezzled funds during the export process, the China-based source said.
Investigation slows exports
North Korea is a key source of magnesite, a mineral used in steel-making, synthetic rubber production, and the preparation of magnesium chemicals and fertilizers.
A China-based ethnic Korean businessman surnamed Nam said Chinese importers are having trouble filling orders for molybdenum, a metal used to make heat-resistant aircraft parts, electrical contacts, industrial motors and filaments.
"For about a month, discussions on imports of molybdenum from North Korea to China were suspended at the request of the North Korean authorities, who asked their Chinese counterparts to be patient and wait a little more," Nam said.
In an attempt to further tap abundant mineral resources, the authorities are attempting a clean-up of the mineral export sector, the China-based source said.
Following an investigation of corrupt and inefficient mineral-exporting North Korean companies, export quotas might be assigned to such companies, and those found guilty of abuse could be imprisoned, the source said.
Swiss-based mining venture Quintermina was recently formed to secure magnesia materials from North Korea, the company said on its Web site.
It said the magnesite resources of North Korea, an extension of the magnesite-talc belt from the northeastern Chinese province of Liaoning, China, are estimated at 3 billion tons, and capable of producing around 100,000 tons per year.
Original reporting in Korean by Junho Kim. Korean service director: Insop Han. Translated by Grigore Scarlatoiu. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.