NEW YORK – An international drug trafficker was caught on tape this year making a “Breaking Bad”-worthy boast about his ability to provide the U.S. market with mass quantities of methamphetamine – not blue, but still potent and from a unique source.
“We have the NK product,” he said, according to court papers. “It’s only us who can get it from NK.”
By “NK,” he meant North Korea, where U.S. authorities say meth production and trafficking present an emerging threat that’s been illuminated by a case brought in federal court in Manhattan against a tattooed motorcycle gang leader, two Brits named Stammers and Shackels, and two other expatriates also operating in Southeast Asia.
The five men were snared in a sting operation involving undercover Drug Enforcement Administration operatives, identified in the papers only as confidential sources, who posed as buyers in a fake plot to distribute the meth in New York City.
In Pyongyang, a spokesman for North Korean’s foreign ministry responded last week with a sharply worded statement saying the country strictly forbids drug manufacturing and drug smuggling. It called the case “another politically motivated puerile charade” spread by “the Western reptile media.”
But experts on North Korea say signs of a steady output of meth there – and the potential for global distribution – is very real.
“It’s entirely plausible, if not probable, that a high quantity of North Korean meth could be smuggled into the United States,” said Sung-Yoon Lee, a professor of Korean studies at Tufts University.
Because of its extreme poverty and isolation, North Korea has long relied on a shadow economy to support its ruling elite. It makes sense that meth has joined a list of illicit goods that in the past included knock-off major brand cigarettes and counterfeit U.S. currency, Lee said.
The drug “is easy to produce and has a high profit margin,” he said. “It would be surprising if the state turned away from this opportunity.”