North Korea has spent more than US$110 million on the personality cult surrounding dead leader Kim Jong-il and has run into serious financial trouble as a result.
According to an informed source Monday, a 23-m statue of Kim Jong-il in Mansudae, Pyongyang in April is estimated to have cost $10 million. And seven more such statues have been built in various places including some official buildings and the city of Kanggye, altogether costing $50 million.
The regime spent $25 million on inscribing his name on about 3,200 so-called Towers of Eternal Life at all major crossroads nationwide, and another $15 million replacing mosaics portraying nation founder Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.
It spent another $20 million replacing more than 20 million portraits of the two leaders and another $1 million on badges with the faces of the two.
As the regime's coffers ran dry as a result of the profligate campaign on personality cult, new leader Kim Jong-un ordered senior party officials this spring to raise more funds for statues and renovate the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, where his father's embalmed body lies in state, the source added.
The Workers Party restructured and expanded a fund dedicated to the deification of Kim Il-sung. Established in 2007 to propagate Kim Il-sung's juche (self-reliance) doctrine, it now also accommodates spending on commemorating Kim Jong-il.
But voluntary donations have been so low that the regime is now forcing people to donate, the source said. The regime is reportedly conducting indoctrination sessions around the country where participants have to pledge gold, silver or hard currency to show their loyalty.
Since October, the regime has extorted "donations" of $150 from each North Korean overseas worker. Diplomatic missions overseas have also been ordered to make donations, and diplomats there have been wracking their brains how to come up with the money.
The fund is seeking emergency loans with 20-40 percent interest from European loan sharks and Asian and Russian banks.
"If it doesn't have the money, the regime should stop building statues, but instead it's resorting to extortion," said a defector who used to be a senior official in the North. "Kim Jong-un's promise to make sure people have enough to eat has proven to be empty talk."
With $110 million, the North could have bought 380,000 tons of corn at $290 a ton, which would almost make up for the North's UN-estimated food shortage of 500,000 tons for this year.