By Julian Ryall
Pyongyang diversifying from manufacturing drugs and counterfeiting foreign currency in order to fund its nuclear and missile programmes
North Korea has diversified its business model for earning hard currency, shifting from a reliance on manufacturing drugs and counterfeiting foreign bank notes to smuggling products from endangered species, fake pharmaceuticals and counterfeit cigarettes.
The details of Pyongyang's methods of earning the funds it needs to pay for its nuclear and missile programmes are spelled out in a study released on Tuesday by the Washington-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.
The 115-page report says Pyongyang has been producing narcotics and smuggling them abroad through the diplomatic bag and printing high-quality forgeries of foreign currency since the mid-1970s, all part of the Kim regime's "fundamental strategic objective" of self-preservation.
There has been a shift in recent years, however, with the emergence of a privatised market economy that the authors describe as "a criminal one that is feeding off the suffering and deprivation of the population".
The smuggling by North Korean diplomats of rhino horn and ivory also appears to be a more recent development, the report says, with a North Korean citizen arrested in 2012 in Mozambique as he attempted to smuggle 130 pieces of ivory, with an estimated value of $36,000, out of the country.
Similar seizures in Kenya, Russia and France totaled more than 1.8 tons of ivory.
There has been a substantial increase in North Korea's output of counterfeit cigarettes since 2002, with a container of fake Marlboro cigarettes impounded in Singapore after arriving from North Korea via the South Korean port of Busan.
Similar seizures took place in South Africa, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines, while in late 2006, 3 million cartons of counterfeit cigarettes - with a street value of £3.5 million -were found by Greek customs authorities aboard North Korean-flagged ships.
North Korean officials were caught in 2004 smuggling 150,000 tablets of the sedative Clonazepam in Egypt, while embassy employees from Bulgaria were detained in Turkey carrying half a million tablets of the synthetic stimulant Captagon, with an estimated value of $7 million.
North Korea has also been accused of manufacturing fake Viagra pills.
The report claims that North Korean officials have also engaged in smuggling gems over international borders, trafficking in DVDs. smuggling used cars and even selling pornography in Finland.