WASHINGTON – The armored black sedans appear everywhere with Kim Jong-un, elegant western chariot for the young dictator of North Korea.
Flown from the North Korean capital of Pyongyang in a cargo plane, the limousines carried Mr. Kim through the streets of Singapore, Hanoi and Vladivostok during the summit with President Trump and President Vladimir V. Putin from Russia. Sometimes a phalanx of bodyguards hunts beside them.
The cars are first-class Mercedes-Benz models – the Maybach S600 Pullman Guard and the Maybach S62, which are popular with world market leaders and each cost up to 1
Western high-end goods pass through a complex system of port transfers, according to a survey by the Center for Advanced Defense Studies, a non-profit Washington group that deals with smuggling networks, and a New York Times study Dodge maneuvering on possible limits of sanctions tool for the Trump administration to force Pyongyang to engage in serious negotiations to end its nuclear weapons program . American officials claim that their only real lever against North Korea is harsh sanctions. During the failed summit meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam, in February, Mr Kim's main request was to lift the sanctions imposed since the end of 2016.
At the request of the government of President George W. Bush, the United Nations imposed sanctions in 2006 to keep luxury goods out of North Korea.
From 2015 to 2017, however, according to a report released on Tuesday, up to 90 countries served as a source of luxury goods for North Koreans. by the Center for Advanced Defense Studies. In addition, networks and supply chains are pervading the territories of some members of the United Nations Security Council and American allies, including China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea.
Both President Xi Jinping of China and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea recently drove with Mr. Kim to Mercedes-Benz limousines during visits to Pyongyang.
For officials who want to enforce the sanctions, it is important to pursue the smuggling of luxury goods – especially of rare items such as armored cars – because, according to sanctioning experts, North Korea uses similar techniques to dual-use technology for To get nuclear weapons program. According to analysts, North Korea continues to enrich uranium to increase its arsenal of estimated 30 to 60 warheads.
"When it comes to sanctions evasion, North Korea relies on a sophisticated, but small group of trusted individuals who move goods demanded by the state, whether they are luxury items or components for rockets, or whether they are dealing in resources "said Neil Watts, a naval expert and former member of the United Nations Panel on Sanctions in North Korea, and spoke generally about patterns of illegal trade with the country.
In its annual report this year, the United Nations Panel noted the appearance of Mercedes-Benz and Rolls-Royce limousines in Pyongyang. Last October, Mr. Kim climbed out of a Rolls-Royce Phantom limousine in Pyongyang to greet Foreign Minister Mike Pompeo.
The journey of an armored Mercedes Maybach S600 from Europe to East Asia shows how one of the luxury goods transport networks operated. The Advanced Defense Studies Center and the Times have been following their way through five countries using open source material, including shipping records and satellite imagery.
Interviews with officials and managing directors confirmed some details of the network. In February, South Korean officials seized a Russian ship that had transported the cars.
The worldwide journey began in the Dutch port of Rotterdam. In June 2018, two sealed containers, each with a Mercedes worth $ 500,000, were shipped by truck to a shipping terminal, according to cargo tracking records. They were in custody of the China Cosco Shipping Corporation. It was unclear who had bought the cars first. According to Mercedes, Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes, carries out background checks on potential buyers of the vehicles to ensure that the company does not sell offenses against the sanctions.
The cars took the ship for 41 days to Dalian in northeastern China. The containers were unloaded after the arrival of the ship on 31 July. They stayed in the harbor until the 26th of August. Then they were put on a ship for Osaka, Japan. From there, they were taken for a three-day trip to Busan, South Korea, where they arrived on September 30th.
Then came the most mysterious part of the passage. The containers were reloaded within a day of their arrival on the DN5505, a cargo ship that sailed under the flag of Togo, a West African nation, and drove to the port of Nakhodka in the extreme east of Russia. At that time, the cars were delivered to Do Young Shipping, a company registered in the Marshall Islands, which owns the DN5505, and another ship, the Panama flagship oil tanker Katrin.
Do Young's estate, however, does not emerge from his registry, appearing to be related to a Russian businessman, Danil Kazachuk, showing documents and interviews. Executives from Han Trade and AIP Korea, the South Korean shipping agencies who worked with the two ships, said that Mr. Kazachuk was the shipowner. Documents received from the Center for Advanced Defense Studies show that Mr. Kazachuk was the owner of the Katrin for about a month in 2018.
The ship with the cars, the DN5505, was originally called Xiang Jin, but was renamed DN5505 and transferred to Do Young by a Hong Kong registered company on July 27, just days before the two sedans arrived in Dalian.
After Busan was abandoned on October 1 by limousines, the ship ] became dark – the automatic identification system stopped the signal transmission. This is common on ships that resort to sanctions.
The signal stayed off for 18 days. When it started again, the ship was in South Korean waters. Now it was back to Busan, loaded with 2,588 tonnes of coal, which was later unloaded in another South Korean port, Pohang. Customs records in South Korea showed that the ship had captured coal in Nakhodka, according to the report of the Center for Advanced Defense Studies.
This port city is located next to Vladivostok where Mr Kazachuk is located. According to shipping data and executives of the shipping agency, the ship had named Nachodka as the destination after leaving Busan with the cars. But the researchers say the cars could have been flown from Russia to North Korea. On October 7, three cargo jets from Air Koryo, North Korea's state-owned airline, arrived in Vladivostok. (This happened to be the same day that Mr. Kim drove a Pyongyang Rolls Royce to meet with Mr. Pompeo.)
It is rare for North Korean freighters to fly to Vladivostok. The Jets are exactly the same aircraft that used to carry Kim's vehicles to back numbers outside North Korea.
"Given the heavy capacity of the aircraft and their role in transporting the armored limousines of Kim Jong-un It is possible that the cargo jets could have loaded the Mercedes," the report said.
Four months later, on January 31, 2019, the same Mercedes model drove through the streets of Pyongyang to the headquarters of the Central Committee of the Workers Party of Korea, according to video footage analyzed by NK Pro. The limousines appeared on this day together with Mr. Kim in a photo session with an art delegation.
In a telephone interview, Mr. Kazachuk admitted to being responsible for the DN5505, but declined to provide details about the delivery of the cars or tell them how or if he has mislaid them to North Korea.
"This is the trade secret of my company," he said. "Why do I have to tell everyone where I bought these cars and to whom I sold the cars?"
There is no evidence linking Mr. Kazachuk to the movement of military technology or goods to North Korea, but international sanctions experts say Russia's Far East is a common transit point for smuggled goods to and from North Korea.
In February, the South Korean authorities seized DN5505 and Katrin on suspected sanctions violations in separate actions. The DN5505 had docked in Pohang, South Korea, and transported more than 3,200 tons of coal after sailing from Nachodka. Officials told the South Korean shipping agency staff who handled the ship that it was being investigated for transportation of North Korean coal. The other ship, the Katrin, was accused of bringing petroleum products to North Korea.
Mr. Kazachuk said he, as a shipowner, was not responsible for what the ships were carrying. He also said that the South Korean authorities are in a "state crash" and may have planted evidence on the ships. "The South Korean police spit on basic human rights from a tall bell tower," he said.
There is another connection between his ships and suspected sanctions violations. When the DN5505 dumped its coal cargo in Pohang on the return trip last autumn after unloading the two sedans, a company called Enermax Korea took the coal.
The United Nations Panel has investigated Enermax, registered in South Korea for sanctions violations.
The 2019 Panel Report states that Enermax is the final recipient of North Korean coal to be shipped to Indonesian waters in April 2018 by a vessel flying a North Korean flag. the Wise Honest, to a Russian cargo ship. The Indonesian authorities detained the Wise Honest around April 1st.
Enermax had signed a contract to buy coal from a Hong Kong-registered company, but informed the panel that it was buying Indonesian coal from someone who appeared to be a local broker in Indonesia.
The purchase contract valued the coal at almost $ 3 million.
In May, the US announced that they would take the Wise Honest.
In an interview, executives at Enermax announced the deal with the Indonesian broker fell apart and no money was exchanged. They also said that they had thought that the coal that the DN5505 had delivered to South Korea last October – just after the Mercedes had been unloaded – and that this February was of Russian origin. They said Mr. Kazachuk had told them that the coal came from Russia.
The South Korean authorities have seized at least six ships since the end of 2017 on suspicion of sanctions violations. Last month, it began to scrape the Katrin. Officials said the dismantling was at the request of Mr. Kazachuk, who did not want to charge any further dock fees for the seized ship.