North Korea Reports First Case of Bank Robbery
David Lee, May 2, 2016, 9:45 a.m.
North Korea is stepping up security after a bank robbery in the border city of Chongjin, North Hamgyong Province, Radio Free Asia reported Saturday. A source told RFA the branch of the North Korean central bank in the city was robbed on March 4. Around 70 million North Korean won or W10 million was stolen, and the robbers probably had inside help (US$1=W1,142).
North Korea's central bank not only prints money but operates a nationwide network of branches that provide loans to state-run enterprises and collects interest. Branches also open private accounts, but the extremely low interest rates apparently draw few customers. They do not offer loans to private customers.
North Korea's Taesong Bank and Foreign Trade Bank, which have become targets of international sanctions, also specialize in providing financial support to state-run business enterprises. A source said there are no proper banks in North Korea for ordinary people, so they often hide the money they earn in open-air markets under the mattress.
Loan sharking is apparently becoming rampant. One North Korean defector said bank robberies have happened in North Korea since the mid-1970s but apparently became more common during the famine in the late 1990s that killed more than a million people.