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It is understood seven smugglers were arrested as they were attempting to deliver a large amount of the metals to buyers in China. Reports suggest North Korean police received a tip off and caught the smugglers near the border city of Hyesan earlier this month.
Judicial sources in Ryanggang province told the RFA Korean Service: “They confessed during the investigation that some of the gold they were trying to smuggle came from central Party officials.
“Some of the smugglers were found to have carried a large amount of gold to Hyesan on the instructions of the central Party officials.
“The officials hid their identities, and tried to get the gold into China by hiring the smugglers.”
The source said the investigators want to keep everyone tight-lipped about the incident, stressing they were under pressure from Kim Jong-Un and the state security department because of the potential implications of the incident becoming public.
The official added: “Mindful of the potentially serious repercussions that could stem from the incident, the provincial security department officials are focusing on keeping the mouths of the people involved in the case shut.
“They don’t want the whole story to be leaked to the outside world.”
The economy of the isolated nation grew for the first time in three years in 2019 as better weather conditions boosted crop yields, but sanctions imposed to stop its nuclear ambitions kept factory output weak.
South Korea’s central bank said the country’s Gross domestic product (GDP) last year rose 0.4 percent in real terms from the previous year when the economy suffered the biggest contraction in 21 years, shrinking 4.1 percent due to a drought and sanctions.
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North Korea has been under UN sanctions since 2006 over its ballistic missile and nuclear programmes and the UN Security Council has been toughening measures in recent years.
A Bank of Korea spokesman said: “The sanctions have not become any tougher since 2017-end and weather conditions have been more favourable which helped output from the agriculture sector to improve.
“Even so, it’s too early to say (North Korea’s) economy is in a recovery as its trade volume in recent years is half the levels seen before the international sanctions kicked in.”
Estimates for North Korean economic data by the BOK are considered the most authoritative as the isolated nation does not disclose any statistics on its economy.
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Since 1991, the BOK has used figures from intelligence agencies and the unification ministry data on everything from size of rice paddy crops, water flows at dams to traffic near the border to make estimates.
The BOK said output from agriculture, forestry and fisheries which accounts for about a fifth of North Korea’s economy increased 1.4 percent last year, while industrial production fell 0.9%, following a 12.3 percent drop in 2018.
However, North Korea’s trade volume jumped 14.1 percent in 2019, as exports of non-sanctioned items such as shoes, hats and wigs increased 43 percent, the bank said.
Current leader Kim Jong Un vowed to switch the focus from the development of nuclear arsenal to economic development in 2018 before he held an unprecedented summit with US President Donald Trump.
The two leaders have met three times but failed to find a compromise over the North’s nuclear weapons programme.
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