scorecardKim Jong Un reportedly got his armored limos via a secret route through 5 countries and a 'dark voyage'
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Kim Jong Un reportedly got his armored limos via a secret route through 5 countries and a 'dark voyage'

Kim Jong Un reportedly got his armored limos via a secret route through 5 countries and a 'dark voyage'
DefenseDefense4 min read

Kim Jong Un limo

  • North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un often travels in armored limousines like the Mercedes-Maybach Pullman Guard 600. A new report from the Center for Advanced Defense Studies sheds light on how such luxury goods evade sanctions and end up in North Korea.
  • The report shows that two armored vehicles - worth about $500,000 each - may have made their way from Rotterdam, in The Netherlands, to Pyongyang, North Korea, over the course of six months. Daimler, the company that manufactures Mercedes-Benz vehicles, says 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 sanction 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.
  • Visit Business Insider's home page for more stories.

A new report provides a glimpse into how North Korean dictator 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 heavy sanctions against North Korea, it's unclear how these luxury vehicles only sold to vetted buyers actually get in the country. Researchers Lucas Kuo and Jason Arterburn with the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS) say they traced two luxury vehicles' paths from Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, through four countries to the streets of Pyongyang.

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 - US President Donald Trump's primary tactic in preventing North Korean nuclear proliferation - are only effective to a certain point.

According to the C4ADS report, two Mercedes-Maybach S600 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 into one of the world's most ruthless dictators.

The21-foot-long Mercedes-Maybach S600 Guard limos are designed with laminated windows, steel and armored floors to withstand bullets fired from assault rifles and some explosives, and are marketed to heads of state. The manufacturer reportedly conducts background checks on potential buyers to ensure they aren't purchased by criminals, the C4ADS report said.

Read more: Kim Jong Un's elite bodyguards run beside his car because of a Clint Eastwood movie

The vehicles sat in shipping containers in Dalian from July 31 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."

Trump, Kim Jong Un

"To prevent deliveries to North Korea and to any of its embassies worldwide, Daimler has implemented a comprehensive export control process," the company added, but acknowledged that it has no control over what buyers or other parties might do with their vehicles.

Daimler did not respond to INSIDER's request for further comment by press time.

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 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 noted; the tracker is used for merchant crews to be 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.

Read more: Kim Jong Un graduated 'with honors' from an elite military academy, but experts are skeptical he ever attended

It's not clear whether the cars got to North Korea from Russia, where they were presumably offloaded, or were offloaded directly in North Korea during the period the report calls a "dark voyage." But The New York Times reports that three of North Korea's Air Koryo cargo jets made a rare trip to Vladivostok, near Nakhodka, on October 7.

Kim Jong Un Vietnam

Those three planes had previously been used to transport vehicles used by Kim and other elites, and Mercedes-Maybach S600 Guards were seen driving in Pyongyang in January of this year.

While it's impossible to tell if these are the exact same vehicles that left Rotterdam in June 2018, The New York Times reports 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 says.