Hit and run highlights corruption in North Korean society

The Pyongyang Roller Skating Rink. (KCNA)

It was early evening in November 2019 at the Nampo roller rink, which was full of happy children and students.

As several children had fun skating, a black Ppeokkugi SUV slowly drove in and stopped on an empty lot next to the rink. A man in his 50s and a woman in her 20s exited the vehicle and changed seats. Now at the controls, the young woman trained hesitantly in driving.

A few minutes later, the car was making a turn on the asphalt field when it suddenly rushed forward, crashing squarely into a young student on roller skates who was approaching from the opposite direction.

Four or five children who witnessed the sudden accident screamed, as the man got out of the car, quickly moved the young woman to the passenger seat and apparently checked to see if the child the car had hit was still alive. Then the car disappeared into the twilight.

Responders only arrived after a high school student at the scene used his cell phone to call his parents. 30 minutes after the crash, the injured student was taken to hospital, where he eventually died.

The victim was an 11-year-old boy in fifth grade. Nampo police sent neighborhood watch units a circular notice with a description of the hit and run suspects and put everything they had into the investigation. Indeed, the boy’s parents were threatening to file petitions with the Pyongyang Ministry of Social Security if local police failed to find the culprits who had killed their only child.

However, the Nampo police failed to catch the hit and run suspects and the incident became a cold case.

Fast forward about two years to October 2021. A woman came before Nampo police, telling them she wanted to turn herself in for the hit-and-run. Participating directly in the investigation, the Nampo police immediately asked the woman to testify in detail about what had happened.

Here is what the woman confessed:

I come from Nampo, a manager took care of me. I got to know him when we worked in the same team in a field in Pyongwon County where the Ministry of Social Security mobilized a rice planting campaign during the planting season when I was a freshman at the Pyongyang Kim Won Gyun Conservatory. The cadre made a sincere effort to help me because he knew that there were not many students from the provinces in Pyongyang and they lived at the competitive Kim Won Gyun Conservatory. He told me not to live in the dorm, helping me buy an apartment near campus that was assigned to someone else’s name. And he helped my struggling parents in Nampo move from a one-story house to an apartment. He said, “Since I help you like a niece, follow me like an uncle.” I will take care of you.’ Then one day he said he would teach me to drive and we left Pyongyang for Nampo, and that day I caused the accident.

Returning to Pyongyang immediately after the accident, the executive implored the young woman to keep quiet about the accident and used his connections to remove the old license plate from the vehicle and get a new plate for the car. With the cadre immediately returning to Pyongyang and being meticulous enough to change the car’s license plates, the couple proved hard to stop.

Above all, the woman says that a few months after the accident, she learned that she was pregnant with the executive’s child, and that he forced her to have an abortion.

While she suffered from the lingering scars of the abortion, the executive informed her that the state had sent him overseas and he did not know when he would contact her again. Then she decided to confess to the hit-and-run accident, for which she felt not only guilty, but also the vulnerability of the executive who had abandoned her.

In particular, the woman said that she had turned herself in to the police in Nampo, her hometown and the department investigating the case, because the cadre had friends in high places in Pyongyang, where he exercised a great power.

Eventually, two years after the accident, the Social Security Ministry executive was sacked, fired, and sentenced to 15 years hard labor for negligent intentional homicide. The woman who surrendered was given one year of forced labor. The state confiscated the apartment the executive had illegally obtained for her in Pyongyang as well as her house in Nampo.

Nampo police closed the case and told the whole story to the victim’s parents. Hearing this, the parents said, “After using his party-appointed position to easily turn a beautiful young student into his concubine and engage in dangerous behavior, the cadre killed another family’s precious only son.

“Is our nation, so full of unethical executive behavior, really socialist?” they cried.

The Nampo police are committed to preventing such accidents from happening again. However, this commitment is nothing more than an empty prayer until the authorities succeed in fundamentally eliminating the vices that have persisted for decades in the corruption-ridden North Korean society.

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