#1Jul 12th, 2011
Cash-strapped North Korea is leasing out parts of its overseas missions buildings to earn hard currency.
A South Korean official on Sunday said the North Korean Embassy to Germany made illegal profits by turning an annex into a youth hostel and renting out its gymnasium for social functions. The North Korean Embassy to Poland was criticized in the local press for leasing out part of its compound to local firms.
This violates the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which bans the commercial use of embassy buildings.
A South Korean security official said, "Staffers of North Korean overseas missions are using their embassy buildings to make money because of a global crackdown on the North's drug trade and tobacco smuggling."
In April, the North Korean Embassy to Russia was caught running a casino in its compound. "The embassy had four roulette tables, five poker and blackjack tables, and 30 slot machines in six game rooms on two floors," the official added.
North Korean diplomats in Latin America earn hard currency by buying Cuban cigars at duty-free prices from Cuban distributors and reselling them to traders in the countries they are assigned to.
Some Latin American nations have stepped up searches of North Korean cargo, and one airline has banned North Koreans, the official said.
North Korean missions in South Africa, Zimbabwe and other African countries are suspected of dealing in contraband goods such as rhino horns or tiger hides.