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(LEAD) N. Korea revives 'Office 38' managing Kim Jong-il's funds: ministry

All Headlines 15:28 February 14, 2011

(ATTN: ADDS background, other developments throughout; RECASTS lead, headline)
By Sam Kim

SEOUL, Feb. 14 (Yonhap) -- North Korea has revived a special party bureau, codenamed Office 38, that oversees coffers and raises slush funds for its leader Kim Jong-il and the ruling elites, South Korea said Monday in its annual assessment of the power structure in the communist country.

In 2009, the bureau had been merged with Office 39, another organ that governs a wide network of business operations both legal and illegal, according to the Unification Ministry in Seoul.

In a meeting with reporters, however, a ministry official said Office 38 has been spun off from Office 39 and is now running on its own again. The official, who would speak only on the condition of anonymity citing the intelligence nature of his comments, cited "a stream of information" that has come through since mid-2010.

The official would not elaborate on how the information has been obtained, only saying the ministry works closely with "related government bodies" to outline the North's power structure.

Office 38, whose chief remains unknown, mainly oversees transactions involving foreign currency, hotels and trade, the official said, while Office 39, headed by Jon Il-chun, drives revenue by dealing in narcotics, arms, natural resources and others.

A source privy to North Korea matters said the spin-off suggests that North Korea has been experiencing difficulties in earning foreign currency since merging the two offices.

"Efficiency was probably compromised after the two, which have different functions, were combined," the source said, declining to be identified citing the speculative nature of the topic. "More importantly, it seems related to the current state of foreign currency stocks. The North is apparently trying to address those difficulties."

In August last year, the United States blacklisted Office 39 as one of several North Korean entities to newly come under sanctions for involvement in illegal deeds such as currency counterfeiting.

North Korea is also believed to have been hit hard financially after South Korea imposed a series of economic penalties last year on Pyongyang when the sinking of a warship was blamed on it.

Both Offices 38 and 39 belong to the Secretariat of the Workers' Party, which Kim Jong-il chairs, according to a diagram of the North's power structure released by the Unification Ministry. Last year, the ministry had only included Office 39 in a similar diagram.

Both offices have often been referred to as Kim Jong-il's "personal safes" for their role in raising and managing secret funds and procuring luxury goods for the aging leader.

South and North Korea remain technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty. Tension between the sides remains high after the March sinking of the Cheonan warship and the November bombardment of a South Korean island by the North's artillery bases on the west coast.

samkim@yna.co.kr
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