Since its 1950s founding, a Pyongyang-linked group called Chongyron has run everything from banks to newspapers, pushing propaganda out and pulling hard currency in. But now that's ending.
It's been a big couple of weeks for North Korea's 29-year-old dictator. Kim Jong Un appointed himself titular head of the country's military last week and took his marriage public on Tuesday. But amid the celebrating, Kim's Stalinist regime suffered a little-reported setback on the other side of the Sea of Japan. At a time when North Korea is as desperate as ever for hard currency, one of its few reliable generators -- and one of its few links to the outside world -- has gone broke, likely ending the bizarre but significanthalf-century history of Japan's once-formidable North Korea lobby.
In late June, a Japanese court ordered Chongryon, a business, education, and banking organization formally representing pro-North Korean members of Japan's ethnic Korean minority, to auction off its ten-story office building in downtown Tokyo, effectively ending its mission of bringing money into North Korea and pushing propaganda out. The group's problems are essentially financial: Chongryon owes the Japanese government nearly $750 million for a late-90s emergency bailout that rescued the group's network of credit unions, which were rapidly de-capitalized because of remittances to North Korea during the country's devastating mid-90s famine, an economic and humanitarian catastrophe that killed up to 2 million people.