North Korea has blackmailed dozens, if not hundreds, of politicians, journalists and businessmen after seducing them with female agents, a former elite North Korean official has revealed.
In a scheme called “the seed-bearing programme”, high-level visitors to Pyongyang would be sent an attractive consort, only to find out several months later that they have a child in North Korea.
Politicians would then be blackmailed to pass legislation favouring North Korea or to increase aid. Journalists would be asked to write positive stories and businessmen urged to set up joint ventures with local companies.
The scheme was dreamed up and put into action by Kim Jong-il, the father of present-day North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, according to Jang Jin-sung, the official poet to the North Korean regime and one of the elite few known as “The Admitted” before he defected in January 2004.
“They will do anything they need to in order to keep the regime going,” Mr Jang, the founder and editor of New Focus web site, said.
“It doesn’t matter to them if something is criminal and, to be honest, the seed-bearing programme is nothing compared to what they are willing to do,” he said.
“The regime mainly targets foreigners who go to Pyongyang and, over time, build up a friendship with the woman who has been assigned to them as a translator or assistant,” Mr Jang said. “But these women are in reality agents of the regime.
“The men don’t want to believe they have been fooled, they want to think that it is a genuine relationship.
“Some months later, when the man has left Pyongyang, he is told that the woman has had a baby.
“These men are specifically targeted because of their value to the North,” Mr Jang said. “Politicians are good because they have a lot of influence, wealthy businessmen can provide economic benefits and religious figures can give them money through their charities.”
A secondary benefit to North Korea is that the children are brought up fiercely loyal to the regime and, with looks that are a combination of cultures, can be infiltrated into other countries as agents, Mr Jang said.
Attempts in the 1970s to abduct foreign nationals – including Japanese, South Koreans, Romanians, Thais and Lebanese – and to turn them into spies for North Korea failed because the victims resisted the brainwashing as they were aware they had been kidnapped and wished to return to their home countries.
Mr Jang said he first became aware of the seed-bearing strategy when he was at university in Pyongyang and discovered that a female classmate, named Ri Hyun-suk, was a product of the programme.
In his book, “Dear Leader”, Mr Jang said: “Her mere presence in Pyongyang provided leverage against her father, giving him greater incentive to encourage foreign aid to North Korea and advocate for engagement strategies favourable to North Korea.”
The blackmail continues to this day, said Mr Jang, who maintains contacts within the secretive North Korean society.
“There are districts in Pyongyang where the half-foreign children are kept, effectively as hostages,” he said. The children are closely monitored by Office 915 of the Worker’s Party’s Strategic Command, Jang said, with everything they require provided by the most powerful entity in North Korea, the party’s Organisation and Guidance Department.
Suspicion in Japan about the fathers of some of these children has fallen on members of the Japan Socialist Party, which had good links with the Workers’ Party of Korea and frequently took part in political exchange visits to Pyongyang.
“The Japan Socialist Party used to have good relations with North Korea and some members of the party went there in the past,” a spokesman for the party said. “Since the case of the abduction of Japanese citizens came to light in 2002, however, we have stopped that relationship with the Workers’ Party of Korea.”
He denied any knowledge of members of the party having had relationships with North Korean women or of fathering any children in the North.
Another Japanese politician who was rumoured to have had a relationship with a woman in Pyongyang is Masaaki Nakayama, a former Liberal Democratic Party construction minister who chaired the Japan-North Korea Parliamentarians’ League and visited Pyongyang on eight occasions until 2002.
“There were lots of rumours in the press about my visits – and they even called my wife and said these things to her to see her reaction,” he said.
“They said I got ‘presents’ and that women came to my room to provide ‘a special service’,” said Mr Nakayama, now 82. “None of its was true, but it was unforgivable that they contacted my wife.
“I was always very careful because I was representing my country when I visited North Korea and I knew that somebody could come out of the woodwork much later,” he said. “In my case, nobody has come forward.”
The reports persist, however.
“My contacts in Japanese intelligence have told me that they can corroborate the claims,” Yoichi Shimada, a professor of international relations at Fukui Prefectural University, said.
“They mentioned that one congressman from the Japan Socialist Party and a journalist from the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper were lured to North Korea and got women pregnant,” he added. “I believe that information to be trustworthy.”
Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor at Tokyo’s Waseda University and an authority on North Korean affairs, said, “It’s known that such girls do approach Japanese politicians.”
Naming a senior Japanese politician, Prof. Shigemura said there are reports that “when he stayed in a private residence in Pyongyang, he took a shower and when he came out of the bathroom there was a naked woman in his room.
“He would not accept her and sent her away.”
“It’s very possible that this is a North Korean operation, and that these women have had babies,” he added. “We know that the North Koreans take videos of guests when they are in their hotel bedrooms, so it is sure that they have footage that they could use to blackmail someone.”