Sat, Dec 29, 2018 - Page 4 News List

Business booming at N Korean ‘Singapore shops’


A North Korean woman walks outside Bugsae Shop, also known as the “Singapore Shop,” in Pyongyang on Friday last week.

Photo: AP

Despite the unwanted publicity of a criminal trial for one of their main suppliers, business is booming at Pyongyang’s “Singapore shops,” which sell everything from Ukrainian vodka to brand-name knockoffs from China.

The stores stock many of the things UN sanctions banning trade in luxury goods are intended to block and provide a reminder that not all potential trade partners are lining up behind the UN’s pronouncements or the US’ policy of maximum pressure on Pyongyang.

The stores are anything but secret. They are well marked, open to walk-ins and distribute membership cards to reward regular customers.

Until recently, the name of their Singaporean partner, OCN Group, was printed on Bugsae Shop’s plastic shopping bags.

While being the focus of a court case that could land OCN’s former director in prison for a long time, they continue to unabashedly specialize in imported products — perfumes, fine jewelry, wines, clothing and cosmetics — that appear to blatantly contravene UN restrictions.

Formally known as the Potonggang Ryugyong Shop and the Bugsae Shop, the stores are a fixture of the upscale shopping scene in Pyongyang, catering to the capital’s elites, Chinese businesspeople and members of the diplomatic corps.

Purchases can be made in US dollars, euros and yuan. The price in each is displayed digitally on the cash register.

Both stores have been substantially renovated since last summer.

The Ryugyong store now has a coffee shop behind the imported shoe section on its second floor. The Bugsae Shop has installed dark wood paneling and glass casing for its wines and spirits corner, which has been dominated by vodkas from Ukraine.

It has separate display areas for snacks and soft drinks from Japan, Malaysia and China, a row dedicated to fancy shampoos, and a section in the rear for imported electronic appliances and household goods.

The well-stocked shelves belie the hit supplies must have taken with the arrest of their former Singaporean trading partner.

Ng Kheng Wah (吳慶華), 56, faces 80 charges of contravening UN sanctions for allegedly supplying US$6 million of luxury goods to the Bugsae Shop from 2010 to last year. This includes watches “clad with a precious metal,” jewelry, musical instruments and wine.

While OCN is not mentioned, the charges accuse Ng of trying to defraud banks through another of his companies, T Specialist International.

Ng, who stepped down as an OCN director in March, also faces 81 charges for working with a partner identified as Wang Zhiguo to deceive DBS, Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp and Malayan Banking Berhad to carry out his deals, issuing false invoices for the sale of Watari Instant Noodles to T Specialist, most amounting to hundreds of thousands of US dollars.

Ng was charged on July 18 and granted bail of S$500,000 (US$365,564).

A pretrial conference is scheduled for Jan. 17.

For each offense under the UN sanctions act, Ng faces up to five years in jail and a S$100,000 fine. Each cheating charge comes with an additional maximum jail term of 10 years and an unspecified fine.


Singaporean authorities have accused another Singaporean and a North Korean man of helping to supply luxury goods to Pyongyang.

They are also investigating a Singaporean businessman who is facing criminal charges in the US for allegedly breaching sanctions against North Korea.

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