North Korean traders working in China have approached Chinese businessmen in recent days to offer rhinoceros horn, a valuable commodity now banned for sale around the world, in a bid to raise much-needed cash for the sanctions-hit country, a local source says.
"They emphasized that the horns are genuine, and that they obtained them from North Korean diplomats working in Africa,” an ethnic Chinese trader working near the border with North Korea told RFA’s Korean Service.
"They showed me photos of the rhino horns on their cell phones and suggested a retail price of U.S. $45.00 per gram,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The horns had been broken into pieces, so there is some doubt about their authenticity,” he added.
Aware that trafficking in rhino horns is now forbidden by international treaty, the North Koreans approached their potential buyer in secret and stressed the value of the horns as a component in traditional Chinese and Korean medicine, the source said.
“But the trade in rhino horns is now strictly prohibited in China, so traders face heavy punishment if they are caught,” the source said. “Therefore, makers of traditional Chinese medicines and sellers of herbs try not to deal in rhinoceros horns.”
“North Korea must be in desperate need of foreign cash, since North Korean traders working in China are trying to smuggle and sell rhino horns in spite of active anti-poaching efforts,” he said.
Many cases unreported
North Korean diplomats have been caught smuggling rhinoceros horns from southern Africa in several instances during the past three decades, according to a report released last year by a civil society organization that exposes transnational organized crime.
“North Korean embassy officials have been implicated in 16 of the 29 cases involving diplomats that we have identified in a variety of sources dating from 1986,” said the report issued in July 2016 by the Geneva, Switzerland-based Global Initiative Against Transitional Organized Crime.
“It is likely that many more cases of diplomatic involvement in the illicit trade have gone undetected and unreported,” the document, titled “Beyond Borders: Crime, Conservatism and Criminal Networks in the Illicit Rhino Horn Trade,” said.
North Korean missions in southern Africa have been involved in the trade in endangered species, especially in Zimbabwe and Mozambique, to generate income for embassies that must be self-financing and to make financial contributions to the central government in Pyongyang, according to the report.
Reported by Joonho Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Richard Finney.