Yun Tae Hyong was a top banker in Kim Jong Un’s North Korea. He personally handled the dictator’s finances while managing the Daesong Bank.
Now Mr. Hyong is a fugitive.
According the South Korean newspaper, JoongAng Ilbo, a well-informed source said that Yun Tae Hyong had disappeared in Nakhodka, Russia, taking about $5 million in cash with him. The source referred to the money as a slush fund used by Kim Jong Un. The banker is now allegedly looking for asylum in a third country.
The source went further to explain that Yun Tae Hyong was the president of Daesong bank. The bank was blacklisted by the U.S. government in 2010, because of its involvement in illicit activity, such as getting around sanctions to provide luxury goods to the North Korean elites.
Now the big question is where will Mr. Hyong turn up next.
South Korea is on alert to receive an official asylum request. Meanwhile North Korea has asked Russia for help to capture the runaway banker.
Some sources have speculated that the defection could be linked to the execution of Jang Song-thaek, Kim Jong Un’s uncle, in December, 2013. Jang was involved in managing the notorious Office 39(also called Room 39, Bureau 39, or Division 39) which was in charge of eluding sanctions and providing Kim Jong Un and other bigwigs with foreign currencies and luxury goods. When Jang was executed it may have frightened other officials working in illicit finance, forcing them to disappear. Whether this was the case with Yun Tae Hyong isn’t clear.
Although Yun may seem like a valuable intelligence target, experts have warned that he may have limited knowledge of Kim Jong Un’s regime. According to Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea leadership expert, even high level officials work in a compartmentalized fashion to prevent anyone from knowing too much.
Nevertheless, any insight into Kim’s finances could prove useful for future sanction enforcement.
Is this defection a sign that Kim Jong Un is having trouble controlling finance and trade?
One source suggested that the man currently in charge of Office 39, Jon Il-chun, is stuck in an unstable position because of an ongoing power-struggle and several past incidents. Although vague, the description along with Jang’s execution and Hyong’s defection paint a picture of deteriorating economic organization.
The United Nations recently published a report confirming the gross extent of the human suffering in Kim Jong Un’s North Korea. Hyong’s defection may add one more glimpse into the dark realities of the hermit kingdom.
[Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons]