Despite international sanctions, Kim Jong Un continues to enjoy the good life, with recent purchases thought to include a gleaming white yacht, expensive liquors and even the equipment necessary to kit out a luxury ski resort. When the world’s most mysterious leader arrives for a parade, he steps out of a black Mercedes Benz. But who sold North Korea’s Supreme Leader a brand new, top-of-the-line limousine?
In 2015, North Korean imports totaled $3.47 billion. But if you remove China — Pyongyang’s biggest trading partner — from the equation, the breakdown reveals North Korea spent more on luxury goods than it did on licit imports from the rest of the world combined, according to UN data processed by the MIT Media Lab’s Observatory of Economic Complexity.
So how can the leader a country that in March of last year warned its citizens to prepare for possible famine and severe economic hardship afford to live in such luxury?
Experts say these types of purchases are made using Kim’s personal piggy bank, filled by Pyongyang’s illicit dealings across the globe. North Korea has been accused of crimes such as hacking banks, selling weapons, dealing drugs, counterfeiting cash and even trafficking endangered species — operations that are believed to rake in hundreds of millions of dollars. North Korean diplomats around the world have been accused of using their diplomatic privileges to conducted crimes such as smuggling gold and running guns.
A 2008 Congressional Research Service report said Pyongyang could generate anywhere from $500 million to $1 billion in profits annually from its ill-gotten gains.
In order to really pressure Kim until he’s desperate enough to get to the negotiating table on the US’ terms, US President Donald Trump may need to go after that money, analysts say. But cutting off that revenue may prove difficult, like playing a game of international whack-a-mole.