North Korean agents abroad have been ordered to squeeze expatriate laborers for US$167 a month each on top of the hefty cut the regime officially takes from their earnings.
The regime sends one State Security Department agent to watch over every 50 workers sent overseas to earn hard currency, to prevent them from defecting or absorbing and bringing back western influences. Each agent must confiscate $167 per worker a month to meet the annual quota of $100,000.
The average North Korean working abroad makes only between $300 and $1,000 a month depending on the type of work and country. Eighty percent of that money goes to an agency known as Room 39, which manages leader Kim Jong-un's private coffers, in the form of taxes, insurance payments and boarding fees.
That leaves the expat workers with a mere $60 to $200 a month, and that is now set to dwindle even further.
The regime has upped its demands due to a surge in North Korean laborers abroad. Faced with a severe cash shortage since international sanctions kicked in after the North sank the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan, Pyongyang has sent anywhere from 40,000 to 120,000 laborers overseas.
"Since the money they send back has become the only source of foreign currency for the regime, state agencies are squabbling over the right to send workers abroad," an informed source said. "The State Security Department appears to have turned to extortion to fund itself."
Extortion is not the only abuse North Korean expat workers are subject to. They are also prohibited from leaving their quarters and watching TV and are routinely beaten to enforce discipline.
North Korean agents extort as much money as possible from the workers. "Expat laborers toil 12 to 14 hours a day and get one day off every two weeks at most," said one source. "Some women are forced to prostitute themselves."
Many North Korean workers apparently turn to illicit activities to meet the regime's demands. According to sources, workers in Russia are involved in smuggling deer antlers, musk and gall bladders of bears which are favored ingredients for folk remedies.
Laborers in Africa, meanwhile, join hands with North Korean diplomats to sell contraband liquor and cigarettes to bars there. In the Middle East, expats make their own moonshine and sell it to their South Asian and Southeast Asian counterparts there.