April 30, 2013 11:26
The sole branch of a South Korean bank in North Korea has closed down eight years after it opened. Two remaining South Korean staffers of Woori Bank at the inter-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex headed back to the South on Monday night carrying around US$100,000 from the bank’s safe.
They were part of 50 South Korean workers who had stayed in the industrial park as the South waited for North Korea to respond to an offer of talks to keep the operations going.
The complex has become a symbol of failed efforts to bring the two Koreas closer through a joint business project.
The Woori branch at normally had around $300,000 in its safe, but the balance dwindled as South Korean businesses there withdrew their money after North Korea closed the border to South Korean vehicles coming in on April 8.
The Bank said it brought back the computer servers and three PCs with the financial transaction records of the 123 South Korean companies at the complex.
The branch had three South Korean and four North Korean staff. It handled the payment of some $8 million in monthly wages for the 53,000 North Korean workers there as well as exchanging foreign currency.
While the bank's domestic and international operations are linked by Internet, the branch in North Korea was connected only to headquarters in Seoul.
Bank staff had to be wary of North Korean wire taps when making phone calls with headquarters. "We refrained from discussing over the phone how much money was left in our safe," a staffer said.
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