North Korea’s smuggling operation has had many successes in obtaining spare parts for its aging air force. But sometimes these efforts fail in a spectacular way. One of these failures became known after the head of the Mongolian Air Force recently resigned unexpectedly. It was soon revealed that the officer, general Tojoon Dashdeleg, and two of his civilian business associates were being prosecuted for corruption. Turns out that back in 2011, Dashdeleg had made a secret deal to deliver twenty surplus MiG-21 jet fighters to North Korea, by sending them to China as scrap. Dashdeleg’s associates would work with Chinese contacts to see that the aircraft components got sent to North Korea instead. North Korea paid Dashdeleg and his pals $1.5 million two years ago, but the aircraft never showed up. Dashdeleg was found out when a visiting North Korean official approached Mongolian officials last November to see about getting their money back.
More details have not yet been released. It is known that Mongolia, because of a 1979 agreement, cannot transfer Russian military equipment to another country unless they have the permission of Russia. Dashdeleg was unable to obtain that permission because Russia has been cooperating with the embargo of military sales to North Korea. The 20 MiGs did go to China, where the Chinese Air Force is also scrapping thousands of its own MiGs. What happened to the twenty Mongolian MiGs is unclear. Perhaps the bribes or forged documents did not work with Chinese border guards. Perhaps the Chinese government found out about the smuggling and halted the MiGs before they got to the border. Whatever the case, the North Koreans didn’t get their badly needed MiG-21 engines and spare parts and, unable to get a straight answer from Dashdeleg, went over his head in an attempt to get their money back.
This may have been an act of desperation for the North Korean official who arranged the deal with Dashdeleg. North Korea is chronically broke, and losing $1.5 million is a hanging offence. That probably won’t cheer Dashdeleg up, as he was only able to offer to give half the money back (in an attempt to reduce the punishment he was facing for corruption).