Ministry of State Security agents in the border regions are soliciting bribes in return for leniency toward the use of Chinese mobile phones. Such bribery continues unabated, despite a wide-ranging investigation into the surveillance body’s abuse of power, highlighting the fact that bribery is an unchanging facet of life in North Korea.
"Recently in Pochon County, a security agent openly requested money from a resident who was caught making a call to a Chinese trading partner. The agent proposed dismissing the charges in return for 2000 RMB (about 390,000 KPW),” a source in Ryanggang told Daily NK.
"The agents only asked the resident who he was talking to and quietly left after taking the money. He would have asked for more money if the phone call had been made to South Korea.”
Similar events have taken place in other regions. "Recently, a woman in her 20s in Kim Jong Suk County paid 5,000 RMB (about 830,000 KPW) to an MSS anti-espionage agent for making a call to South Korea," added a separate source in Ryanggang Province.
Bribery sums are now becoming standardized to some extent by the security agents, and appear to be following market dynamics. These days, the unwritten rules are a payment of 2000 RMB for making a call to China and 5000 RMB for calling South Korea.
"The agents will first ask which country was called when residents are caught using Chinese mobile phones. Then they just ask them to pay a fixed amount for a bribe, saying, 'You know the current price,'" the source said, explaining that many MSS officers patrol alone in order to keep all the profits for themselves.
MSS agents are supposedly the frontline of regime security in the country, but rely on bribes to survive. This is a major reason why attempts by the regime to reform the MSS have failed.
"Even the officials belonging to law enforcement agencies like the MSS and the Ministry of People’s Security are abusing their power to exploit the residents, because the state is not adequately paying them," said a source in North Hamgyong Province.
"Although the residents are becoming increasingly resistant to such corrupt practices, the authorities are not able to take proper measures. People are resenting the circumstances, as they have nowhere to go for help even when they are openly extorted.”