N.Korean Finance Chief Sacked Over Currency Debacle

Pak Nam-gi, director of the planning and fiscal affairs department of the North Korean Workers Party Pak Nam-gi, director of the planning and fiscal affairs department of the North Korean Workers' Party

The North Korean regime apparently sacked the Workers' Party's Finance Director Pak Nam-gi, letting him take the fall for the failed currency reform late last year. Pak was appointed finance director in July 2007 to oversee North Korea's economic policies and has spent the past few years trying to root out a nascent market economy.

"Right now, North Korean officials are busy blaming each other for the failed currency reform and Pak, who spearheaded the revaluation, is believed to have been sacked," said a diplomatic source in Beijing. "Markets have come to a grinding halt following the currency revaluation and prices have soared," the source said. It seems North Korea hoped to stabilize prices through the currency reform and then credit the achievement to Kim Jong-il's third son and heir apparent Jong-un to consolidate his grip on power, but this flopped, the source added.

Some North Korea watchers in China predict that the regime may perform a U-turn back to timid market reforms now that Pak, who led the crusade against capitalism, has been fired. One North Korea expert in Beijing said, "There is a strong possibility that high-ranking North Korean officials who led the drive to crush market forces since 2004 will be removed from office, while policies will shift toward market reforms starting in the second half of this year."

Meanwhile, the new North Korean won is still plummeting against the U.S. dollar. North Korea valued the new currency to 98 won per dollar after the old won weakened to 3,500. But the new won has plunged since last month and is now being traded at between 300 and 500 won per dollar, according to people who trade goods with North Koreans.

englishnews@chosun.com / Feb. 03, 2010 10:10 KST