North Korean Embassy lobbying for visa extension of its illegal workers in Nepal

Ishwar Dev Khanal

September 4, 2019

13 MIN READ

North Korean Embassy lobbying for visa extension of its illegal workers in Nepal
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KATHMANDU: North Korean Embassy in Kathmandu is lobbying to extend visa status of around 14 North Koreans staying and working illegally in Nepal even after the expiration of their visa dates.

The Embassy is lobbying to extend the visa of its nationals currently working at the Botonggang Restaurant and Bar P. Ltd (on the top floor of Rising Mall in Kathmandu) whose visas expired on June 6, 2019.

The Government of Nepal hesitated to extend the visa of these workers after the United Nations (UN) last month wrote a letter to the former to strictly execute the sanctions imposed on North Korea.

Five, among these 14 North Koreans, were earlier staying and working in Nepal on dependent visas. However, their visas got extended and started living in Nepal on a tourist visa, which, too, expired on August 13 this year.

Deputy Chief of Mission at the North Korean Embassy in Nepal, Kim Jong Hyok — affluent in Nepali language — is currently lobbying with the government authorities to extend the visa of the Korean nationals, which observers say would be a breach to the UN sanctions against the isolated country.

Hyok is learned to have met with some confidants of Nepal’s Industry Minister as well as Home Minister in this regard. He is also learned to have assured them that since the UN would gradually relax sanctions against North Korea in the next session, and since their relations with South Korea have been gradually smoothened, Nepal would not be affected.

Highly-placed sources conceded that initiation has been made to send the file to the Department of Immigration through the Department of Industry to provide the business visa to the North Koreans.

Director General at the Immigration Department Ishwor Raj Poudel terms it ‘illegal’ to stay in Nepal after visa expiration. “Regarding the visa expiration of North Koreans, I am not well aware about it till now. However, if it has happened, it would be illegal to stay here,” he said, adding that they would initiate legal action against those who are over-staying. “However, a visa can be extended if anyone who wishes to do so before the date of the visa really expires.”

Meanwhile, former DIG of Nepal Police Keshav Adhikari says, “Working on a tourist visa and that too without a labor permit is illegal.”

Records at the Department of Industry show that the Botonggang Restaurant and Bar P. Ltd, said to have a seating capacity of 150 people, bought from Chinese investors on June 22, 2018, have been registered in the names of Hwang Un Ha, Sin Yong Im, and Ri Chang Nam.

North Korean investors have employed workers in the restaurant claiming that they have been ‘dependents’ without acquiring labor permit to work in Nepal.

Director at the Department of Industry, Prem Prasad Luitel informed that this restaurant has been registered with a 150-seating capacity.

Meanwhile, foreign affairs analyst, Arun Kumar Subedi terms such illegal activities carried out by a nation currently facing UN sanctions as reprehensible. “This will denigrate Nepal’s image internationally, if not checked,” Subedi adds.

According to the Nepal Police record, those arrested include Kang Jong Ryol, Kim Hye Ryon, Zong Song Mi, Zi Yang Gyong, Ri Gang Yong, Ri Ok Mi, Kang Il Hang, Hyung Ju Ok, Young Un Jong, Kim Un Hye, and Rim Jo Yo.

Workers of the recently-closed Pyongyang Okryugwan Restaurant have also been currently working at the Botonggan Restaurant.

It should also be noted that on the last week of April in 2018, police rounded up 11 North Korean nationals illegally working in Nepal.

Acting on a complaint lodged with the police, a special team from the Metropolitan Police Crime Division (MPCD) arrested them from the Durbar Marga-based Pyongyang Okryugwan Restaurant operated by North Korean nationals. This restaurant has been closed down.

According to the Nepal Police record, those arrested include Kang Jong Ryol, Kim Hye Ryon, Zong Song Mi, Zi Yang Gyong, Ri Gang Yong, Ri Ok Mi, Kang Il Hang, Hyung Ju Ok, Young Un Jong, Kim Un Hye, and Rim Jo Yo.

Soon after the arrest, they were handed over to the Department of Immigration. However, bowing down to pressure, they were released immediately. According to police, they were working in Nepal sans work permit since long.

Foreign workers with the illegal status that too much less in number raise several questions over the power and function of the government as weak monitoring.

They had arrived in Nepal on a business visa and stated working illegally. They continued to work at the restaurant as they were freed without taking action. But, the restaurant finally closed after it was dragged into disputes time and again.

North Korean Embassy then transferred the workers to ‘Himalayan SoJe Restaurant’ being operated in a house situated near a road in Sanepa, Lalitpur, and registered with the Department of Industry on September 5, 2018, in the name of two North Korean citizens — Ju Ok Hwang and Il Hyang Kang.

Observers note that North Korea has been operating restaurants to reinforce its intelligence mechanism.

According to a record maintained by the Department of Industry, five restaurants have been registered with 100 percent ownership of the North Koreans.

Restaurants registered in the name of North Koreans

According to the record at the Department of Industry, the Himalaya SoJe Restaurant has been registered in the names of Ju Ok Hwang and Il Hyang Kang September 5, 2018. Even though the registration record points out the location of this restaurant in Lazimpat, Kathmandu but the actual operation of the business is taking place in Sanepa.

The record kept with the government reveals that this restaurant would have a capacity to accommodate 100 customers at a time and would employ 23 staff (workers).

Foreign workers with the illegal status that too much less in number raise several questions over the power and function of the government as weak monitoring.

List of Registration

  • Hotel and restaurant registered in the name of Tong Min Ri registered on July 9, 2007. Location: Goldhunga of Kathmandu. Capacity: 16 beds, 32 seats.
  • Restaurant registered in the name of Young Ju Kim on July 22, 2007, with 200 seating capacity.
  • Botonggang Restaurant and Bar Pvt Ltd registered in the names of Hwang Un Ha, Sin Yong Im and Ri Chang Nam with a capacity of 150 seats on June 22, 2018.
  • Himalaya SoJe Restaurant Pvt Ltd registered in the names of Ju Ok Hwang and Il Hyang Kang on September 5, 2018 having a capacity of 100 seats.
  • Minas Restaurant registered in the names of Jong Kum Yong, Pak Son Hui and Ho Il Ran on October 1, 2018, with a capacity of 100 seats.

Increasing diplomatic pressure

The UN has repeatedly reminded Nepal to rein in North Korean activities in the Nepali soil, which has increased in recent times. In a letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), this year, the UN has urged the Nepali government to stop all North Korean business in Nepal.

The United States has also reminded the government of Nepal regarding the UN sanctions against North Korea and the international obligation of the Government of Nepal to follow UN resolutions.

Likewise, US special envoy Mark Lambert during his visit to Nepal in June this year, had raised concern over North Korean activities in Nepal while expressing the fear that North Koreans might have been using Nepal as a base to commit cyber-crimes, and other illegal activities.

US Foreign Secretary Michael Pompeo had on December 2018 urged his Nepali counterpart Pradeep Gyawali to control North Korean activities in Nepal, which Gyawali had responded positively.

However, with no halt to North Koreans’ illegal activities in Nepal, Michael Pompeo wrote an official letter early this year to Prime Minister K P Oli reminding him once again his failure to take any actions against the illegal activities being carried out in Nepal despite the assurance given by Foreign Minister Gyawali.

It should be noted that during the Nepal-US Trade and Investment Framework Council meeting held in Washington DC in November last year, assistant US trade representative Mark Linscott has warned that failure to check North Korean activities in Nepal could adversely affect Nepal and US trade.

Similarly, David J. Ranz, acting Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs who visited Nepal in May 2019 during his meeting with Ram Bahadur Thapa, the Home Minister of Nepal had drawn the attention of the government regarding the activities being carried by North Koreans in Nepal.

Likewise, US special envoy Mark Lambert during his visit to Nepal in June this year, had raised concern over North Korean activities in Nepal while expressing the fear that North Koreans might have been using Nepal as a base to commit cyber-crimes, and other illegal activities.

During an extensive discussion with a range of Nepali political leaders regarding North Korean activities taking place right under the government. During the meeting, he had serious objection to Nepal’s land being used by North Korea against the US.

A member of Nepal’s Federal Parliament, who met with Lambert, told Khabarhub that Lambert even warned of dire consequences if Nepal failed to control North Korean’s illegal activities in Nepal.

During the meeting, Lampert had said that at a time when the US is trying to resolve the North Korean nuclear activities through dialogue, Nepal, too, needs to act accordingly and that this Himalayan country should not try to understand it the other way.

The Embassy of the United States in Kathmandu has reminded the incumbent Prime Minister K P Oli and his cabinet ministers regarding UN sanctions against North Korea and the international obligation of the Government of Nepal to follow the UN resolutions. Understanding the gravity of the situation, the Government of Nepal has stopped romancing with North Korean diplomats at the excuse of showing communist camaraderie between Nepal and North Korea.

It has also been learnt that US Ambassador to Nepal Randy Berry, too, has reminded the incumbent government ministers, highly-placed government officials, army and police officials regarding the North Korean activities in Nepal.

Former US Ambassador to Nepal, Alaina B. Teplitz also is said to have repeatedly reminded the Nepali side to check North Korean activities in the country.

The government had in 2015 had expelled 54 North Koreans — who had come to Nepal in tourist visa — involved in tunneling in Sindhupalchowk district. Likewise, the government had denied visa to two North Koreans in last August.

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