(Reuters) – Not far from Linjiang, people in thin, head-to-toe rubber suits were diving in the river. Locals said they were part of North Korea’s smuggling operations.
We couldn’t figure out what the divers were doing – mending pipes in the river bed, fishing? One local walking along the Chinese side of the river bank was happy to fill us in. “They’re mining for gold,” he said.
“Are they Chinese or North Korean?” I asked. “Ha! They’re North Koreans. Chinese aren’t desperate enough to resort to earning money like that.”
We saw men in military uniform watching over the divers. Defectors have said “Office 39,” a North Korean entity that procures luxury goods for the Kim family, has a hand in the gold mining business, exporting gold as a way to raise hard currency.
Each corps in the military and security ministry does this kind of gold mining, panning for gold in rivers and streams, wrote Kim Kwang-jin, a North Korean defector, in a report by the U.S.-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.