Bureau 39 – Kim’s cash machine | This week on FOUR CORNERS

North Korea is one of the most secretive nations on earth. Led by the unpredictable Kim Jong-un, the ‘hermit kingdom’ is largely sealed off from the rest of the world.

Despite severe financial sanctions imposed by the United Nations, the nation has defied international pressure and developed a sophisticated and costly nuclear weapons program.  

While more than half of the population lives in poverty, Mr Kim and his cronies live a life of luxury, buying up big ticket items like state-of-the-art pleasure craft and top of the line Mercedes and Rolls Royce armoured cars.   The question is, where is all that money coming from?

“Bureau 39 is involved in everything that makes money for North Korea: selling arms, smuggling of drugs, counterfeiting of US bills. This is about hundreds of millions of dollars a year.”  North Korea special investigator 

Officially, Bureau 39 does not exist. But leading experts on the North Korean regime say it’s essentially the cash making machine for the Kim regime.

“Talk to any prominent North Korean exile and they all tell you that Bureau 39 is absolutely crucial in earning revenues for the North Korean regime. It’s absolutely vital. Take it away, everything collapses.”  North Korea special investigator 

In this investigation, from Germany’s ZDF, the story reveals the extensive web of operations carried out at the instruction of Bureau 39.   From money laundering to arms smuggling, insurance fraud and human trafficking, the scale is extraordinary.

“Bureau 39… has unrivalled power in North Korea.   It can therefore control all economic channels through which money can be made.”  Former North Korean diplomat

The program travels across the world finding evidence of North Korean workers sent overseas to work in slave like conditions.

“No matter how hard I work, I can’t make any money… they keep almost all of our wages.”  North Korean construction worker

While inside North Korea, textile workers are held in terrible conditions while their products are secretly exported and sold under expensive designer labels.

“It means that…we may even buy clothes in the Netherlands, in Germany, all through Europe, in America, that was made in concentration camps by people who will never see the light of day again.”  North Korea special investigator

Experts warn that the activities of Bureau 39 clearly show that the attempts by the international community to bring North Korea to heel are failing and that Kim Jong-un has outwitted the west.

“There is a huge problem with our North Korea policy and using sanctions to try and have the regime modify its behaviour, because we’re not sanctioning the one entity that earns most of this money that keeps it afloat financially, that keeps it alive.” North Korea special investigator 

Bureau 39 – Kim’s Cash Machine, directed by Sebastian Weis for ZDFinfo, goes to air on Monday June 1st at 8.30pm on ABC.

It is replayed on Tuesday June 2nd at 1.00pm and Wednesday June 3rd at 11.20pm. It can also be seen on ABC NEWS channel on Saturday at 8.10pm AEST, ABC iview and at abc.net.au/4corners.

Steve Molk
Steve Molk is sharply focused on the business of TV in Australia across all its formats - FTA broadcast, commercial, subscription, catch up & SVOD. Based on the Central Coast of NSW he's a passionate advocate for Australian-made programming, particularly drama and comedy. He loves podcasting, gaming & watching too much TV. | Call/Text 0401 709 405
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