April 13, 2016 11:28
Thirteen North Koreans who defected from a restaurant in Ningbo, China were working for the perpetually unfinished, 105-story Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang, the Daily NK said Tuesday.
Quoting unnamed sources in Pyongyang, the website reported that hotel staff had been working overseas for years to raise hard currency for the regime and fund the completion of the hotel.
The Ryugyong Hotel is run by an agency under the North Korean cabinet and also operates restaurants overseas. The 13 defectors all worked in the Ningbo branch.
Construction of the hotel started in 1987 but was halted when the money ran out two years later. It resumed in 2008, when Egypt's Orascom, which has the mobile phone license in North Korea, invested US$180 million. Only the exterior has been completed so far.
The parents of these overseas workers are often senior officials whose position is supposed to immunize their children against the temptation to escape.
The defectors were first posted to a restaurant in Yanji in Jilin province but after earnings deteriorated they moved to Ningbo in Zhejiang province around November of last year.
The Daily NK reported rumors in Pyongyang that the party secretary in charge of the Ryugyong Hotel as well as the director of the agency overseeing the hotel and other officials responsible for the defection will be held accountable. Officials at the State Security Department tasked with monitoring workers abroad are said to be afraid for their lives.
"Party officials are scared that their lives are at risk for the sake of earning a few dollars, and there are signs that all workers abroad will be recalled," a source in Pyongyang said. Officials who want to bribe their children's way into an overseas job are apparently changing their mind.
The State Security Department has replaced the supervisor at the restaurant in Ningbo since the defections and dispatched a task force to China to deal with the problem, sources say.
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