Heavy-handed attempts by the North Korean regime to crack down on the nascent market economy and rudimentary civil liberties are spurring rampant corruption in the Stalinist country.
Shortly after coming to power in January of 2012, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un implemented a sweeping amnesty to gain popularity, but in October of last year the regime reverted to stone-age repression, ordering security forces to listen to "the sound of a falling needle."
One government source here said Kim visited the state security agency and ordered officials to conduct 24-hour surveillance of the North Korean public.
That has resulted in rampant bribery to escape real or imaginary infractions.
One North Korean defector said, "Security agents can put away a nice retirement fund if they trace five families in their jurisdiction with relatives who defected to South." The defector said that some security agents actively encourage people to defect.
Bribery is being fueled by ever more absurd crackdowns on anything from South Korean TV shows and pornography to "improper" hairstyles or clothes.
Corruption is also rampant among bureaucrats, and kickbacks go all the way up to high-ranking Workers Party officials. One North Korean defector who used to be a high-ranking party official, said, "Since Kim Jong-un came to power, several inspections have been taking place every month so that regional party officials won't go astray, so the officials are busy paying off the inspectors."
Inspectors seem more eager than ever to ensure that party officials are complying with their orders or regulations, but in fact they are merely making collection rounds.
When the inspectors arrive, party officials apparently serve them meals as well as drugs, cash and other gifts. Defectors say party officials get US$2,000, those in charge of propaganda $1,000, state inspectors $1,000 and National Defense Commission members $1,000 per visit.
That is why North Korea has been ranked the most corrupt country in the world by Transparency International since 2011.