North Korea attempted to acquire multiple high-end Lexus sport utility vehicles worth more than a million dollars in total last year, a forthcoming U.N. report shows, suggesting that DPRK interest in sanctioned luxury cars has not ceased despite recent COVID-19-related economic woes.
A Nanjing-based company was involved in efforts to supply Lexus LX570 SUVs to North Korea — a vehicle type that Kim Jong Un himself previously used — information provided to the U.N. Panel of Experts (PoE) by an unnamed Member State shows.
A draft copy of a forthcoming PoE report seen by NK News also states that the shipment of SUVs arrived in Ningbo, China after reportedly being shipped from the United Arab Emirates in late Sept. 2020.
China-based North Korean representatives from the Korea United Development Bank, Credit Development Bank and Korea Kyongeun Trading Corporation allegedly facilitated the purchase, the Member State told the U.N.
The Chinese firm involved in the transaction was named Jiangsu Overseas Group Foreign Economic and Technical Cooperation, Ltd, the report shows. The U.N. said it wasn’t able to get replies to requests for information.
It’s unclear whether the vehicles ever made it to North Korea or were seized in Ningbo.
Toyota Motor Corporation, which manufactures Lexus vehicles, told NK News it takes sanctions compliance obligations seriously and has resources to ensure compliance with both multilateral and unilateral sanctions frameworks. “Toyota and Lexus do not sell vehicles to North Korea. We do not, nor do we have a plan to, operate in the DPRK, including both for the export and production of vehicles,” their spokesperson said.
Since becoming leader, North Korean state media has shown Kim Jong Un with an increasing array of U.N.-sanctioned luxury class vehicles. Mercedes, Lexus and Rolls Royce appear to be among the DPRK leaders’ favorite brands, prior NK News and NK Pro analysis of state media output shows.
Source: NK News
But a source familiar with illicit exports to North Korea told NK News on condition of anonymity that Lexus LX 570 SUVs could be obtained via China for $100,000 each, suggesting the cargo mentioned in the U.N. report could have comprised 10 or more vehicles.
Go Myong-hyun, a research fellow at the Asan Institute in Seoul, told NK News that the timing of the alleged purchases may be significant.
“North Korea had imposed almost a total ban on imports since the summer of 2020,” Go said, which “some saw as an extension of strict COVID-19 quarantine measure the regime had imposed on the North Korean public.”
But Go said the attempted import of luxury cars in the middle of the pandemic undermines the stated rationale behind North Korea’s border closure.
“The fact that luxury good imports, which are consumed by the elites as well as Kim Jong Un and his family, continued during last year is an indication that the true motive behind the import ban wasn’t public health-related but rather to control the persistent trade deficit.”