Five men have been extradited to the US from Thailand to face charges of trafficking crystal methamphetamine cooked in North Korea. The highly militarized nation is hard for humans to get out of, but court documents indicate that meth seems to escape more easily. In September, the men were arrested by US federal agents after promising North Korean meth to undercover DEA agents. From Al Jazeera:
Two of the men, who officials say were members of a Hong Kong-based criminal organization, allegedly sold more than 66 pounds of meth produced in North Korea in 2012. That crystal meth was later seized by law enforcement and tested to be more than 99 percent pure, even purer than the meth cooked by Walter White, the fictional teacher-turned-drug lord in the popular TV series, "Breaking Bad." The other three men – two of whom were from Great Britain and one from Thailand – had allegedly agreed to transfer the meth from Thailand and store it in the Philippines.
Crystal meth is everywhere, but there are few locations better suited for the drug than North Korea. Produced from chemicals accessible even in a country as isolated as North Korea, it also suppresses appetite; that makes it ideal for a nation scarred by hunger. And there are many underemployed scientists — North Korea has a surprisingly educated populace — with the ability and desire to toil away at perfecting the formula in remote labs scattered across the country's mountainous interior.
Perhaps the scientists chose factories hidden among North Korea's mountainous countryside, or perhaps North Korean authorities did not know or care about the notoriously pungent smell that 'cooking' crystal meth throws off. More likely, North Korean authorities participated in the trade; they had been smugglers of other contraband, including bootleg cigarettes and heroin.
Three North Koreans I spoke with said the drug started appearing on the domestic market in the late 1990s — a period also cursed by devastating rains, which damaged the opium poppy crop. As thousands of North Koreans began moving across the country's porous border with China during the famine, looking for food and work, they discovered a market for crystal meth on the Chinese side.
And that, my friends, is why you want to keep scientists employed as scientists.
Read the whole Al Jazeera piece, which points to some relevant studies indicating that this case isn't isolated, and that if Walter White were alive and real, Madrigal Electromotive might consider Pyongyang as a future hub.
PDF of indictment: "US vs. Scott Stammers, Philip Shackelss, Ye Tiong Tan Lim, Alan Kelly Reyes Peralta, and Alexander LNU." In court documents, "LNU" generally stands for Last Name Unknown.