N.Korea Manufacturing Banned Drugs for Athletes, Defector Claims

North Korea has been manufacturing banned substances on a state-wide level for years to help its athletes excel, according to a high-ranking defector from the communist state.

The shock announcement comes just days after five female North Korean athletes who competed in the 2011 Women's World Cup in Germany tested positive for anabolic steroids.

"The Sports Science Research Institute under North Korea's Physical Culture and Sports Ministry operates two plants in Pyongyang's Potong and Sosong districts that produce drugs for athletes," said the defector.

"They are disguised as tonics or nutritional supplements," he said, adding that Pyongyang sent scientists to sympathetic communist countries decades ago to study up on the subject.

"North Korea sent Sports Ministry officials to East Germany during the late 1980s to learn about the latest drug manufacturing technology," he said. "The drugs can make athletes strong, but they cannot be detected by most doping tests."

"It is quite common for athletes in North Korea to take [performance-enhancing] drugs. When North and South Korea fielded a joint team during the 6th World Youth Soccer Championship [in Portugal] in 1991, Ri Myong-song, who headed the North's sports delegation at the time, offered drugs to South Korean athletes but was turned down," he said.

The North Korean military is also engaged in manufacturing such illegal drugs, he claimed. According to the defector, the regime's armed forces began production in the 1970s at an army hospital in order to enhance the combat capabilities of its soldiers, but athletes in the military are now the main users.

The top officials tasked with overseeing the production of illegal substances are Physical Culture and Sports Minister Pak Myong-chol and First Vice Minister Jang Ung, he said.

Pak, the son-in-law of professional Korean-Japanese wrestling legend Rikidozan or Yok Do-san, is a childhood friend of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. He is also a close confidante of Kim's brother-in-law, Jang Song-taek, but found himself ousted in 2004 when Jang was accused of corruption. Both Jang and Pak were reassigned to their posts in 2006.

Jang Ung, who is also a member of the International Olympic Committee, handles the finances of the ministry in question. He apparently manages much of the valuable foreign currency wired from North Korean restaurants around the world that helps prop up the North's cash-strapped regime. Those funds are then allegedly used to import the various ingredients needed to make performance-enhancing drugs and other illegal substances.

Regarding the latest doping scandal surrounding the women's World Cup, North Korea has apparently claimed that its athletes accidentally ingested anabolic steroids while they were recovering from their injuries by taking oriental medicine containing musk.

The AP reported that the latest controversy is the biggest doping scandal in a major sports event since top soccer player Diego Maradona was kicked out of the 1994 World Cup in the U.S. after testing positive for banned substances.

englishnews@chosun.com / Jul. 20, 2011 10:41 KST