- Korea Summit Press Pool/Getty Images
- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un often travels in armored limousines like the Mercedes-Maybach S600 Pullman Guard. A new report from the Center for Advanced Defense Studies shed light on how such luxury goods evade sanctions and end up in North Korea.
- The report said that two armored vehicles – worth about $500,000 each – may have made their way from Rotterdam, Netherlands, to Pyongyang, North Korea, over the course of six months. Daimler, the company that manufactures Mercedes-Benz vehicles, has said it does not do business with North Korea.
- The new report may also show how other illicit materials – like those intended for use in nuclear weapons – make their way to North Korea.
- The United Nations imposed sanctions on North Korea in 2006. US President Donald Trump sees sanctions as his strongest bargaining tool to get North Korea to give up nuclear weapons.
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A new report provides a glimpse into how North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gets his armored limousines despite sanctions against luxury goods.
Kim often travels in vehicles like the Mercedes-Maybach S600 Pullman Guard, but given the heavy sanctions against North Korea, it’s unclear how these luxury vehicles, sold only to vetted buyers, actually get in the country. The researchers Lucas Kuo and Jason Arterburn with the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS) said they traced two luxury vehicles’ path from Rotterdam, Netherlands, through four countries to the streets of Pyongyang, North Korea.
UN sanctions on luxury goods sales to North Korea have been in place since 2006. But reports of Kim’s lavish lifestyle indicate that sanctions, President Donald Trump’s primary tactic in preventing North Korean nuclear proliferation, are effective only to a certain point.
According to the C4ADS report, two Mercedes-Maybach S600 Pullman Guard vehicles, each worth about $500,000, left Rotterdam on June 14, 2018. From there, they traveled by ship to Dalian, in northern China, according to The New York Times, which also conducted an investigation into how the vehicles came into the possession of Kim.
The 21-foot-long Mercedes-Maybach limos are designed with laminated windows, steel and armored floors to withstand bullets fired from assault rifles and some explosives, and marketed to heads of state. The manufacturer conducts background checks on potential buyers to ensure the vehicles aren’t purchased by criminals, the C4ADS report said.
The vehicles sat in shipping containers in Dalian from July 31, 2018, to August 26, when they departed for Osaka, Japan, on their way to Busan, South Korea, according to The New York Times.
Daimler, the company that manufactures Mercedes vehicles, previously told INSIDER that it “has had no business connections with North Korea for far more than 15 years now and strictly complies with EU and US embargoes.”
- BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
“To prevent deliveries to North Korea and to any of its embassies worldwide, Daimler has implemented a comprehensive export control process,” the company told INSIDER via email, but it acknowledged that it has no control over what buyers or other parties might do with their vehicles.
“We always investigate the vehicles displayed on the photos in the media thoroughly. However, without the vehicle identification numbers it is impossible to find a concrete trace,” Daimler added.
From South Korea, The New York Times reported, the containers sailed to Nakhodka, Russia, aboard the DN5505, a ship owned by the Do Young shipping company, which is registered in Marshall Islands.
The ship’s shipping tracker went dark for 18 days after it left Busan – typical behavior for a ship trying to evade sanctions, The New York Times said. The tracker is used so merchant crews are aware of other commercial vessels. When the signal reappeared in South Korean waters, the ship was carrying coal from Nakhodka, according to the C4ADS report.
It’s not clear whether the cars got to North Korea from Russia, where they were presumably offloaded, or if they were offloaded directly in North Korea during the period the report calls a “dark voyage.” But The New York Times reported that three of North Korea’s Air Koryo cargo jets made a rare trip to Vladivostok, Russia, near Nakhodka, on October 7.
Those three planes had previously been used to transport vehicles used by Kim and other elites, and Mercedes-Maybach S600 Pullman Guards were seen driving in Pyongyang in January.
While it’s impossible to tell if these are the exact same vehicles that left Rotterdam in June 2018, The New York Times reported that goods headed to North Korea often travel through the Russian Far East.
In addition to showing how sanctioned goods get into North Korean hands, the routes may also show how technology and materials that can be used for nuclear weapons end up in North Korea.
“North Korea acquires high-end luxury goods through the same overseas smuggling networks as other contraband. As a result, their detection and seizure could be a means to drive action against the Kim regime’s core procurement operations,” the C4ADS report said.