North Korea may be a tiny, impoverished country, but it’s one that packs a punch. In the decades since the Korean War ended in 1953, the North’s regime has gone over the top to ensure its survival. One thing’s for sure — its leaders have shown the world, time and again, that they play by their own rules.
Here are five bizarre North Korea stories you couldn’t make up.
North Korean commandos slipped into Seoul and tried to kill the president – and were thwarted by four teenagers
In 1968, a 31-man squad of North Korean assassins slipped into South Korea with a plan to kill then South Korean president Park Chung Hee at the Blue House, or presidential residence.
Unit 124, which comprised the North’s most elite soldiers, had trained for two years in sub-zero temperatures, and even slept on top of corpses to make them fearless for the mission.
No one could have guessed the whole plan would be thwarted by four teenaged brothers. Searching for firewood near their rural South Korean home, the boys stumbled upon the North Korean camp. Instead of killing them instantly, the unit’s commander decided to give them an indoctrination lecture on the glorious ways of North Korean socialism. After the boys promised they were converted, they were set free and promptly alerted their local police station. South Korean and U.S. military then scoured the area but couldn’t find the unit. But they put the word out and all South Korean authorities were on alert.
Unit 124 then made their way to Seoul and arrived at the Blue House dressed in South Korean military uniforms. The commandos were questioned by a Blue House guard at a checkpoint. Unsatisfied with their odd answers to his questions, and aware of reports that North Korean agents had infiltrated the South, the guard drew his pistol and the North Korean unit opened fire.
A running gun battle then ensued as the unit ran through the city in an effort to escape. Over the next 72 hours, members were hunted down, one by one, and killed. One commando escaped and another, Kim Shin Jo, was captured. He later defected to South Korea and said he was moved that South Korea’s people had showed him sympathy.
In perhaps the most bizarre twist, this former citizen of a nation that strictly outlaws all religion and is known for torturing and murdering Christians, converted to Christianity. Now in his 70s, he is the pastor of a church in South Korea.
North Korea has kidnapped people all over the world
Many know North Korea has abducted several – some believe hundreds – of Japanese citizens from Japanese shores. But few are aware that North Korea has kidnapped people from all over the world, and the number of abductees is believed to be well into the thousands.
Most abductees are South Korean, but others have been abducted from Lebanon, Macau, Italy and elsewhere, and victims include citizens of Thailand, France, Romania and, allegedly, the United States.
North Korea’s reason is simple: To provide language and cultural trainers so North Korean spies can blend into cultures overseas without detection.
One was the abduction of a Romanian woman who worked as a sculptor, named Doina Bumbea, who was 27 when she went missing in 1978.
Studying art history in Rome, she was approached by a North Korean agent with a promise of a career in painting in Japan. Thinking she was being transported to Japan, she ended up in North Korea. She allegedly shared an apartment with Charles Jenkins, an American defector, and his Japanese abductee wife, who were released in 2004. Bumbea lived in North Korea for around 20 years until she died of cancer in 1997, according to The National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea.
Few also know the story of numerous other abductees, citizens of Thailand, France, China and the United States.
In 2004, American student David Sneddon was hiking in China, in an area known as a route used by North Korean defectors and the North Korean agents looking for them (it is illegal for North Koreans to leave the country and North Korean agents freely hunt down escapees in China).
Sneddon’s parents in June told a U.S. news outlet that they had gone to China to search for their son, and that information they uncovered has convinced them that he was kidnapped and taken to North Korea.
Kim Jong Il kidnapped two Korean actors and forced them to make movies for him
Long before the Korean Wave became an international entertainment phenomenon of music, movies and TV dramas, Korea had a booming film industry, with actors that were household names.
Kim Jong Il, deceased father of current North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un, was himself a major film buff. Despite his hatred of the United States and the country’s official anti-U.S. ideology – school children grow up singing songs about those “American bastards” – Kim Jong Il’s favorite films included titles such as Silvester Stallone’s Rambo, as well as James Bond films. The dictator wanted North Korea to have a top film industry, and as such ordered the kidnapping of Korean actress Choi Eun-Hee and her film director husband Shin Sang-Ok – one of the most glamorous couples in South Korea at that time.
Choi Yoon Hee received an invitation from a man who said he had a studio in Hong Kong. But when she arrived, she was whisked onto a boat and told she was headed to North Korea. The North Koreans then nabbed her husband, who’d been in Hong Kong and afraid to return to Seoul to face questions about his wife’s disappearance.
Once in North Korea, the two were separated for five years, with Choi Yoon Hee acting as the personal pet of dictator Kim Jong Il, amid intense indoctrination and brainwashing sessions. After appeasing the dictator by making films for him – one even received a prize in a Czech film festival – and wowing him with a Godzilla-like flick, the two were allowed to set up a film studio in Austria.
They then made it to the U.S. embassy, where officials whisked them out of the country and finally to Reston, in the U.S. state of Virginia. The two lived in Los Angeles for a time, where Shin Sang-Ok made some films for Disney. In 1999 they returned to Seoul.
North Korea has swindled major corporations — and used the cash for nukes
North Korea not only sells high grade meth to finance its illegal nukes problem. But the regime has also swindled major European insurance corporations out of tens of millions of dollars by setting up fake companies throughout Asia.
In an interview with Borderless News published earlier this year, former North Korean official Kim Kwang Jin said he was in charge of a re-insurance scam in Singapore that made up completely bogus claims, raking in truckloads of cash, which he turned over to the North Korean regime. Re-insurance companies reimburse insurance companies after a claim is paid out. So if you’re in a car accident and receive a payout from your insurance company, it’s likely your insurance company gets reimbursed by their insurance company – known as a re-insurance company.
In one claim, Kim Kwang Jin’s fake company got a payout of $58 million for made up helicopter accident, in which a non-existent mother of triplets was killed. In North Korea, the birth of triplets is considered a national blessing, and mothers of triplets are lavished with media attention, given a new house and assigned a special nurse. The media follows their upbringing, where they went to school, military service and beyond, providing lifelong propaganda benefits to the regime.
Officials in Pyongyang concocted a story that the mother and her unborn children were killed in a helicopter accident, which constituted a national tragedy. Kim Kwang Jin said that officials in North Korea likely assumed that such veneration of triplets is universal (the officials likely had zero knowledge of the outside world).
But there never was such a family of triplets, and there never was a helicopter crash. The company just made it up, and a major re-insurer reimbursed the fake company.
Kim Kwang Jin told Borderless News that he had no idea why major corporations were so easily swindled, adding that some didn’t even know they were doing business with a North Korean company – they thought it was a South Korean company – and didn’t even seem to know the North Korean government’s reputation for brutality against its own people.
Many major insurance corporations signed contracts forbidding them from entering North Korean territory to investigate claims made on North Koran soil. They also signed contracts that stipulated any disputes would go through a North Korean court. If you weren’t aware, North Korea doesn’t have real courts, nor does it have any semblance of modern law. The law is what the leaders say it is.
Kim Kwang Jin told Borderless he used to fill bags with stacks of U.S. dollars, which amounted to millions, and have them hand delivered to North Korea’s leader on his birthday.
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