North Korea: From Mourning to Night

North Koreans mourn the death of Kim Jong-il in this government photo. /KCNA via REUTERS

As the body of Kim Jong-il is being displayed today in a carefully orchestrated public mourning period for the deceased North Korean dictator, governments around the world are wondering what the ascension to power of Kim’s young son, Kim Jong-un, means for the country’s future.

Might the insular nation’s new leader, said to be in his late 20s, usher in a new era more open to communicating – and negotiating – with the outside world?  Or will the opposite occur, with the new dictator turning inward even more to consolidate power, and possibly even exacerbating tensions with the U.S. and other countries in an attempt to prove himself?

In one of the most secretive and oppressive countries on Earth, it truly remains to be seen.

Kim's body lies in state.                                                      / KYODO via REUTERSAs the AP reports, Kim’s death “could set back efforts by the United States and others to get Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions. Concerns are also high that Kim Jong-un — being young and largely untested — may feel he needs to prove himself by precipitating a crisis or displaying his swagger on the international stage.”

North Korea has consistently ranked as among the worst nations – if not the worst – when it comes to transparency, governance, individual freedoms and corruption. It also has participated in illegal arms trading, and shown an alarming willingness to sell its nuclear secrets.

The annual Corruption Perception Index released by watchdog group Transparency International found North Korea tied with Somalia as the most corrupt nations on the planet. Another recent report, the Democracy Index 2011, concluded that North Korea was the world’s least democratic country, based on measures like civil liberties, the political process and how a country’s government functioned.

Freedom of speech and of the press are non-existent. According to the BBC, Reporters Without Borders often cited Kim Jong-il as a “predator of press freedom”, with only Eritrea ranked below North Korea in its most recent press freedom index. Radio and TV sets in the country are actually supplied pre-tuned to government stations and radios must be checked and registered with the police. Internet access is scant.

The anti-regime Daily NK, published in Seoul, quotes sources in North Korea who report that authorities there are tightly managing even the public’s response to Kim’s death.

“In Musan, soon after the public announcement, several loud siren blasts were heard,”  the newspaper reported.  “Now there are armed troops standing guard at four meter intervals downtown, and every available National Security Agency and People’s Safety Ministry agent is out there on guard duty,” a source told the paper. They ordered everyone indoors.

“Not even children are allowed to go out,” the source said.

Sweep to Armed troops at 4m intervals

Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger at a Notre Dame pep rally in 2005. / REUTERS

It’s one of those “say it ain’t so” stories: the scrappy Notre Dame football player who inspired the 1993 feel-good movie “Rudy” has gotten busted in a pump-and-dump stock scheme that scammed investors out of more than $11 million.

Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, the walk-on player who famously beat the odds and scored a spot with the Fighting Irish, was charged by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission of using phony stock sales, made-up taste tests and false advertising to defraud investors into thinking his sports drink company was on the rise.

The SEC’s complaint, filed in a Las Vegas federal court, charged that Ruettiger and his business partners – including penny stock promoter Stephen DeCesare – swindled people into investing in “Rudy Nutrition,” then dumped their stock, pocketing millions.

Ruettiger has agreed to pay $382,000 to settle the SEC’s claims, without admitting or denying his guilt.

Sweep to SEC accuses man who inspired Rudy film of sports drink fraud 

This week could prove to be a crucial one for a sweeping anti-corruption bill in India.

The so-called Lokpal Bill would create a powerful new anti-corruption agency, charged with going after crooked politicians and bureaucrats throughout the country.

As the BBC reports, India has been mired recently in a “string of high-profile corruption scandals, badly damaging the government’s reputation.” These include accusations of “a multi-billion dollar telecoms scam, claims of financial malpractice in connection with the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games and allegations that houses intended for war widows ended up in the hands of civil servants.”

The contentious battle over the legislation has focused recently on just who in government would actually be subject to investigation by the new agency.  If the bill is introduced as soon as today, the Indian Parliament will have only a few days to take action before its current session ends. Otherwise, the lawmakers might not take up the bill until their return in February.

Sweep to India begins crucial week for anti-corruption bill

Aaron Kessler

Aaron Kessler

Aaron Kessler is an award-winning journalist who for nearly a decade has investigated a wide range of subjects from financial crimes by corporations and individuals, to politics and government abuses at the local, state and federal levels, to terrorist financing networks.