A new report which maps out how North Korea obtains luxury goods says that the country obtains the items through sophisticated networks, despite sanctions against the country.
The report by Washington D.C.-based non-profit research organization the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS) says that as many as 90 countries serve as a source of luxury goods to Kim Jong Un’s regime, despite a U.N. resolution prohibiting the export of such items to the country.
Authors of Lux & Loaded: Exposing North Korea’s Strategic Procurement Networks used publicly available information such as registry filings, trade records, vessel tracking data and customs information to follow the movement of luxury goods into the country.
“The Kim regime continues to maintain sophisticated procurement capabilities through U.S.-allied countries despite sanctions,” the report says.
North Korea’s leader uses perks like gifts of western luxury goods to keep officials loyal to him, and he is frequently spotted in luxury cars. He raised eyebrows when he arrived to meet Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for a meeting in Pyongyang in a Rolls-Royce Phantom, a car for which the starting retail price is around $450,000. His wife was criticized for sporting a Christian Dior handbag retailing for $1,600 while millions of people starved in her country.
The report tracked items like more than 800 luxury vehicles that made it into North Korea, including two armored Mercedes-Maybach S600 Guards shipped in October 2018. It says the vehicles originated in Germany, the Netherlands and Thailand before being transshipped through China, Japan, South Korea, and the Russian Far East.
Consumer goods including name-brand clothes, designer cosmetics and iPhones are all imported into the country, C4ADS says.
Experts say that stopping the flow of luxury goods into the country could have a real impact. “If sanctions are tightened and luxury goods are blocked from entering North Korea, the regime’s legitimacy would be challenged,” Lami Kim, a Lecturer in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at the University of Hong Kong and an adjunct fellow at the foreign policy research institute the Pacific Forum told TIME.
“Since economic hardships brought Kim Jong Un to the dunuclearization negotiating table, it is imperative for the international community to tighten sanctions implementation to block luxury goods form going into North Korea,” Kim says.