North Korean diplomats are so underpaid that they have in some cases resorted to growing beansprouts to make ends meet or forgone life-saving medical treatment. North Korean Ambassador to Italy Kim Chun-guk recently died of liver cancer there because he could not afford a check-up, according to a diplomat who defected to South Korea. The defector said the ambassador in Rome is paid US$700 a month, a counselor $600, and a first secretary $500. “Nobody can afford medical exams or treatment in Europe on such a salary,” he said. If any North Korean mission overseas asks Pyongyang for money, they are told to shut down the embassy and come back. The defector said many North Korean diplomats in Europe are doing without medical insurance because it is expensive there, and if something is seriously wrong with them they cannot afford the treatment. North Korean ambassadors in Southeast Asia are paid less than $400 a month, according to Hong Sun-gyong, a former counselor at the embassy in Thailand who has defected. “They’re worse off than South Koreans who live on the breadline,” Hong added. Another problem is how to pay for the upkeep of the embassies. One defector who worked in the North Korean Embassy to Russia, said, “We used to grow beansprouts to sell in the market, and the embassy in Germany used to rent out rooms.” Some North Korean diplomats in Africa were caught smuggling rhino horn. They naturally prefer to work in less developed countries because it is easier to make money there and living is cheap. Their favorite postings are trouble spots because they can sell arms there.
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