July 09, 2013 14:03
The number of North Korean laborers overseas stood at about 46,000 as of January, up some 10,000 from December 2011 when former leader Kim Jong-il died, a source said Monday.
New leader Kim Jong-un apparently gave orders to send as many workers as possible abroad to earn valuta, even at the risk of some defections.
The move comes amid tighter international sanctions and an end to cash flow from South Korea after the shutdown of package tours to Mt. Kumgang and the joint Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex.
◆ Up to 90% of Pay Extorted
The monthly pay for North Korean expat workers is between US$300 and $1,000, depending which country they work in and what kind of job they do. But some 70 to 90 percent of their pay goes straight into the regime's coffers via an agency known as Room 39, which manages Kim's slush funds. The deductions are billed as loyalty funds, party membership fees, tax, insurance premiums, and board and lodging fees.
Each security agents supervising a group of expat workers must extort and remit $10,000 to $100,000 to Pyongyang, which means that the workers are left with only $100 to $130 a month.
According to defectors, many North Korean laborers scramble for the chance to go abroad, despite the risk of extortion from security agents.
The competition is fierce. Many give officials $20 to $30 as a bribe for work placements abroad, while others bribe party officials to pass family background checks for ideological soundness. To pass physical exams, some people then pay officials $10 to $100 for any disease they want kept quiet.
"It seems that the regime has raised more than about $30 million since Kim decided to send 10,000 more workers abroad," a diplomatic source said. "He is spending the money giving gifts to his close aides and hosting sumptuous dinners."
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