North Korea has resumed its buying of high-end watches, famous brand bags and designer clothes for Kim Jong Un, his family and aides despite an international ban on luxury good exports to the country, according to South Korea’s unification ministry.
The volume of the products imported to North Korea from areas near its borders with Russia and China has been recovered from the second half of last year following a slump during the pandemic, the ministry said in a statement Thursday.
Shipments of luxury products into North Korea are subject to United Nations sanctions. Pyongyang uses its diplomats and company officials stationed in China, Russia and Europe to purchase the goods and bring them into the country, the ministry said.
South Korea estimates North Korea’s imports of luxury goods can be worth hundreds of millions to billions of won annually, according to the ministry, which has also released several photos of Kim and his family using high-end products in public.
The statement comes as South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol who took office last year seeks a tougher stand on North Korea while strengthening ties with the US and Japan. Kim’s larger-than-life style contrasts with a lack of food for North Korea’s roughly 25 million people and speaks to Pyongyang’s likely ability to further circumvent sanctions through its strengthening ties with Moscow.
South Korea estimates North Korea produced 4.51 million tons of food crops last year, about 800,000 tons less than needed, and the situation has probably worsened this year, according to a report released last month from the Korea Development Institute.
International sanctions, natural disasters and border closures due to the pandemic have likely aggravated the food shortage in North Korea, the report said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed support for North Korea’s policies on Wednesday during a visit to Pyongyang that is the latest demonstration of strengthening relations between the two countries. Lavrov’s visit follows Kim’s trip to Russia, which was one of his longest ventures outside the country since he took power about a decade ago. Putin pledged to help Kim with his space program.
Kim and his family members have frequently been spotted with luxury goods at public events. Kim was seen wearing an IWC watch during his trip to Russia last month while his sister was holding a $7,000 Dior bag, Yonhap News reported.
Kim’s wife and daughter also wore a Movado watch and a Dior jacket respectively at other events, according to Yonhap.
Sanctions imposed on North Korea have sought to target the leadership in Pyongyang by cutting their access to jewelry, yachts and luxury automobiles. They also ban activities that would aid North Korea in money laundering, narcotics trade and currency counterfeiting.