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North Koreans have created various business enterprises on embassy grounds in foreign countries, at times annoying their host nation’s citizens, The New York Times reported.
Neighbors in Sofia, Bulgaria, have complained to the police that at one of the embassy’s properties, late-night parties were held where fireworks were being lit from the building’s roof.
Terra Residence, the previous home of North Korea’s ambassador, was reportedly rented out to host weddings, proms, and even Bulgaria’s version of the TV show “Celebrity Apprentice.”
Many of the embassies are expected to “self-finance” their operations in the host country, according to a story from The Telegraph published in 2014.
North Korean diplomats from many of the country’s 40 embassies had reportedly dealt drugs, weapons, and imported duty-free goods that could be sold for a profit, The New York Times said in its report. The newspaper cited a former member of the North Korean military who said embassy staff have also been seen in London buying used electronics at flea markets, ostensibly to refurbish and resell.
Host nations have attempted to curb the businesses with limited success. Germany’s Foreign Ministry has been trying to shut down a hostel rented on a North Korean-owned compound, according to a Washington Post report. A Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson also told The Times that the country had urged North Korea to limit its use of the Sofia property for “diplomatic and consular activities,”
Business ventures in North Korea’s diplomatic circles apparently ran the gamut. Marcus Noland, a North Korea expert and executive vice president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, retold a story passed on by his father-in-law who was an ambassador: “In India, years ago, it was known within the diplomatic corps that if you wanted to buy beef, you could knock on the backdoor of the North Korean embassy in Delhi. They ran an abattoir in the basement,” Noland said in The Times.