International law enforcment agencies suspect North Korea of using its overseas restaurants, such as the one pictured in Dubai, for money laundering purposes. Photo: AFP/Giuseppe Cacace

The Pyongyang Koryo restaurant, a North Korean-run eatery in Myanmar’s former capital Yangon, has been ordered to close. This follows a request from the United States for Myanmar to adhere to sanctions against North Korea imposed by the United Nations Security Council, according to reports in the Myanmar press.

The restaurant, which opened in 2011, is one of several in the region run by North Koreans to earn foreign exchange for the cash-strapped government in Pyongyang. At one stage, the North Koreans ran such restaurants in Bangkok and Pattaya in Thailand, in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap in Cambodia, in Indonesia’s capital Jakarta and in Vientiane, Laos, and Kathmandu, Nepal as well as various locations in China.

It is uncertain how many of those are still functioning, but at least those in Cambodia appear to be open as usual. International law enforcement agencies also suspect that the restaurants have been used to launder proceeds from other commercial activities by North Korean embassies in those countries.

Restaurants, where cash is used, are ideal places for money laundering, according to those law enforcement agencies. The closure of the Pyongyang Koryo restaurant comes as the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump are scheduled to meet in Singapore later this month and, therefore, could be seen as an attempt to put additional pressure on Pyongyang to give in to Washington’s demands that it should give up its weapons of mass destruction programs.

North Korea’s restaurant business, implausible as it may seem, plays a role in Pyongyang’s efforts to earn badly needed foreign exchange. Those eateries are usually run with local partners to conceal the actual ownership. The restaurant in Myanmar is said to be operated in partnership with a prominent local businessman who for legal reasons has not been named in the press reports.

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