How N.Korea's Ruling Family Swells Its Private Coffers

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's youngest son and the heir apparent Kim Jong-un is already said to be busy amassing his own slush fund. Despite North Korea's dire economic difficulties, Kim Jong-il himself is said to have stashed away between US$200-300 million every year to finance his lavish lifestyle and maintain the party elite's loyalty to him.

With the money, North Korea would be able to import between 400,000 to 600,000 tons of rice, which would be enough to cover half the country's food shortage of 1 million tons of rice per year.

Key departments within the Workers Party are pressuring agencies under their control to offer "loyalty funds" for the successor, a source familiar with North Korean affairs said. "A separate company has been established under the leadership of Kim Jong-un to secretly amass foreign currency."

The source said Kim senior uses his slush fund to finance his expensive tastes, build monuments in his own honor and buy gifts for his loyal aides. Faced with increasing difficulties bolstering his slush funds under international sanctions, the Kim is said to have issued an ultimatum to his top officials in February, saying from now on he would judge their loyalty based on the amount they contribute to the fund.

The North is estimated to have imported more than $100 million worth of high-quality liquor, cars and other luxury goods in 2008. And also on the list are pet dogs, which the Kim family are said to adore. Kim buys dozens of German shepherds, Shih Tzus and other breeds from France and Switzerland every year. He also buys dog food, shampoo and other pet products as well as medical equipment for the dogs and has foreign veterinarians check their health.

Before nation founder Kim Il-sung's birthday on April 15 this year, Kim imported around 200 high-end cars from China at a cost of some $5 million. A North Korean source said secret funds are also used to finance nuclear missile development and other state projects Kim Jong-il orders personally.

It is difficult to estimate the total amount of Kim's slush fund. Experts can only guess that Kim has stashed huge sums of money in Swiss or Luxembourg bank accounts, as did other dictators like former president of the Philippines Ferdinand Marcos and ex-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The international press estimates Kim's slush fund to be worth around $4 billion.

Kim started amassing his slush fund as soon as he was picked as the next leader of North Korea in 1974 to be able to buy the loyalty of top officials. A special department within North Korea's Workers' Party called Room 39 which manages Kim's slush fund by collecting the loyalty funds, exporting local staples including pine mushrooms and operating stores in hotels. A large portion of the $100 million to $200 million North Korea makes each year from exporting weapons, producing counterfeit dollars, smuggling fake cigarettes and selling drugs are also put into Kim's slush fund.

A North Korean source said a lot of the cash profits generated by the joint tourism business with South Korea end up inside Kim's personal slush fund too, judging by the fact that Taesong Bank and Zokwang Trading, which do business with the South, are both controlled by Room 39.

Early this year, Kim appointed his high school friend Jon Il-chun to head Room 39. Jon was made the chief of a state development bank North Korea opened recently to lure foreign investment. A South Korean government official said there are suspicions that Kim is diverting some of the profits of the state development bank into his own slush fund as well.

englishnews@chosun.com / Apr. 28, 2010 12:27 KST