Corruption in N. Korean Military Makes China Border Porous

Corruption is so rampant in the North Korean military that the nation’s border with China can be crossed by anyone with the money to bribe border guards, according to a report released Thursday by the S. Korean Institute for National Security Strategy.

Border guards can be bribed to allow defectors to cross into China for 1,000 yuan or $40, said the Institute’s Koh Jae-hong. The guards will even carry the elderly across the river on their backs for $60.

“In Hoeryong, North Hamgyong Province, a senior security official took a bribe to erase CCTV footage of someone fleeing the North,” Koh told Chosun Ilbo.

Bribes can even get soldiers to offer up secret military files, the report says. Among sensitive data obtained from N. Korean officers through bribery include wartime contigency plans, orders issued by the supreme command and electronic warfare guidelines. The information is typically sold for between tens and hundreds of millions of N. Korean won to information traders who work along the Chinese border, said Koh.

Under currently prevailing exchange rates, it takes about 130 N. Korean won to buy 1 US dollar.

The soldiers who accept the bribes commonly kick up the money to their superior officers to secure easier shifts or furloughs. To secure a 15-day leave soldiers would otherwise have to offer their superiors 100 kg (220 pounds) of corn. Soldiers from wealthy families pay $1,000 to $2,000 to secure leaves of up to a year.

The soldiers themselves often pay 200,000 N. Korean won to be assigned to a unit stationed along the Chinese border because of the lucrative opportunities to earn money by taking bribes. The amount is the equivalent of between seven and 10 years’ worth of for the average solder. An Army captain is paid about 3,000 won a month, according to Koh.

The tens of thousands of N. Koreans who annually cross into China — either to make illicit trading profits or on their way to a new life in S. Korea —  present such lucrative opportunities for the soldiers stationed along the 820-mile border that the military would be loathe to see political developments that could open the border to legal crossings.