It seems Kim Jong-Un has a taste for the finer things in life. According to a report by NK News, on May 28 North Korea’s state-run news agency Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) broadcast images of the 29-year-old autocrat, flanked by generals, walking on a dock with the starboard of a $7 million yacht looming behind them. The spectacle can be seen here.
The image of Kim and friends in front of the white shiny vessel was allegedly taken during a ten-day jaunt taken by the Supreme Leader along the nation’s impoverished eastern coast.
Will Green, sales director of Princess Yachts, an arm of the world’s largest luxury goods firm LVMH, told NK News that the ship appears to be a 95-foot-long Princess95M. “Given we launched the 95MY some years ago, many of them will have since changed hands on the private brokerage market,” Green said, adding the ship maker was not aware of how Jong-Un attained the boat and is looking into the matter.
According to Curtis Melvin, the editor of North Korean Economy Watch who originally noticed the image of the yacht on KCTV, the Dear Leader’s penchant for luxury should come as no surprise. After all, it runs in the family. The late Kim Jong-Il was known for his extravagant regimen. In 2006, The Washington Post condensed the late Great Leader’s tastes in a jingle:
Fake fur and real fur and jewelry and Jet Skis,
Crystal and Segways and bubbly and Caddies,
Race cars and leather and plasma TVs –
These are a few of Kim's favorite things.
As The Washington Post went on to note, water scooters, race cars, motorcyles, even station wagons round out the list of Kim’s other favorite things – a very long list indeed, which also includes TVs of more than 29-inches, DVD players to view his collection of 20,000 DVDs (including favorites Godzilla and Rambo), sushi, caviar, shark-fin soup, cognac, and of course yachts. In total, Jong-Il kept 20 percent of the nation’s budget to himself. He also gave to his high-ranking officials, in the form of 160 Mercedez-Benz sedans in 2010.
“I think they both (Kim Jong-Il, Kim Jong-Un) grew up having everything they wanted so I do not believe living luxuriously is out of the ordinary for either of them,” Melvin told The Diplomat. “I have located a number of yachts on satellite imagery that belonged to Kim Jong-Il and Kim Jong-Un.”
Kim Jong-Il’s extravagance prompted the UN to draft Resolution 1718, banning the sale of all luxury goods to the DPRK in 2006. These sanctions were further strengthened this March following the North’s third nuclear test in February. Austrian and Italian authorities seized two luxury yachts that were sold to the North in 2009. Yet, it is unclear how he got his hands on the elite watercraft.
“As sophisticated as efforts to control the illicit flow of money and goods around the world have gotten, there remain ways around it,” Andray Abrahamian, executive director of Choson Exchange, a Singaporean non-profit providing training for North Koreans in economic policy, business and law, told The Diplomat. “It may not directly be related, but note how the great victory of killing Pablo Escobar, for example, led to the rise of other cartels almost immediately.”
He added, “Authorities in North and South America know so much about the flow of cash, drugs, luxury goods, weapons…they still can't stop it.”
Melvin concurred: “After carrying out decades of illicit activities – shipping illegal goods, laundering money – it should not be too difficult to arrange the purchase of a yacht.”
Indeed, despite intensifying sanctions, Dong-a Ilbo reported that imports of illegal luxury cars and associated components to North Korea doubled last year to $231.93 million, up from $115.05 million 2009. Further, announcements of Jong-Un’s plans to build a private sauna, construct a ski resort, and his amassing of a collection of pedigree dogs show that the leader has no intention of slowing down.
This all begs the question: given that images of such extravagance circulate routinely in the North Korean news, how do the nation’s penniless, malnourished masses – suffering from droughts and floods – feel about it?
“The real high luxury – at the yacht level – is still basically hidden from the public view. But luxury of a more ordinary sort has become increasingly visible in recent years, especially in Pyongyang,” Abrahamian said. “Cars, watches, fine clothes, good restaurants – the average person now regularly sees such things and is exposed to the idea that wealth is attainable for some and not others. This is a significant social change that is taking place.”
Melvin added, “In recent years, living standards in Pyongyang have visibly improved. I suspect that this is especially true (in less visible ways) for the ruling coalition. I predict this trend will continue.”