Kim Jong-un has been seen chauffeured in Mercedes-Benz limosines, a luxury vehicle. © Dmitry Yefremov\TASS via Getty Images
Kim Jong-un has been seen chauffeured in Mercedes-Benz limosines, a luxury vehicle. © Dmitry Yefremov\TASS via Getty Images

North Korea's secret luxury goods supply chains revealed

North Korea has been smuggling luxury goods from as many as 90 countries through complex supply chain routes, according to a report.

Luxury goods exported to North Korea, between 2015 and 2017, were valued at up to $5.1bn, according to the report from C4ADS, a non-profit organisation that reports on conflicts. 

This suggests UN international sanctions to ban the supply of luxury goods to North Korea have been ineffective, said C4ADS, which mapped the supply chains the regime uses to obtain luxury goods. 

To bypass the bans, products pass through countries with little or no luxury goods controls, such as China, which is the top luxury goods exporter to North Korea by value. 

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s common routes for procuring luxury vehicles, the largest luxury import, include shipments via Russia, originally from Germany, Thailand, and Japan, according to the report. A total of 803 luxury vehicles from 82 shipments were tracked between 2015 and 2017, including Lexus, Toyota, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, UAZ and Mitsubishi. 

Facilitators included shipping and logistics companies in Russia, Japan and South Korea. Russian shipping company JSC RZD Logistics co-signed for the most vehicles – 537 out of the 803 recorded. Russian shipping company TK Vostok-A co-signed for the most shipments (84%), involving 233 vehicles. 

In January 2019, Kim was photographed being chauffeured in a Mercedes-Maybach S600 limosine, a car valued at over $500,000. The report tracked cargo shipments involving the vehicle to North Korea three months earlier.

Supply chain data tracked two cargo shipments of Mercedes-Maybach vehicles transported through a suspected procurement route from Rotterdam Port in the Netherlands to China, Japan, South Korea, and Russia, where they were allegedly transported by Air Koryo cargo jets to Pyongyang in North Korea, according to the report.   

The UN banned the supply, sale or transfer of luxury goods to North Korea in 2006, including cars, yachts, jewellery, lead crystal, luxury watches, recreational sports equipment, watercraft, snowmobiles, rugs and tapestries (valued higher than $500), and porcelain or bone china.

Kim has been seen using Daimler limousines since 2018. The carmaker said it has no idea how North Korea has obtained the limousines. It says they have a “comprehensive export control process”. 

North Korea has been reported to have used smuggling, spying and slavery to set up illegal supply chains in the past.

The report recommended that countries standardise the definition of “luxury goods” to enable more enforcement of UN bans in export systems.

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