중앙데일리

Luxuries for North’s elite keep on flowing

Dec 18,2006
MACAO ― Despite United Nations sanctions aimed at preventing the North Korean government from buying luxury goods for its ruling class, government sources here said a North Korean trading company is still busy providing Kim Jong-il loyalists with their perquisites.
Tian Ming Trading Company, in the center of this former Portuguese enclave now with the same China-affiliated status as Hong Kong, says its main business line is carpets, and little more. Three office workers said there were no North Koreans at the company and that it has never traded with North Korea. The company’s president was out of town on business, they said.
But a source with close ties to the trading economy here said that Park Su-dok, a 53-year-old North Korean, is in Macao and obtained a visa as an employee of the company.
Another source said, “Tian Ming is a joint venture by North Korean and Hong Kong investors, and its main business is buying luxury goods from Hong Kong for shipment to North Korea.” He added that Tian Ming’s president, a Hong Kong resident, is buying luxury watches, gold products and expensive liquor at North Korea’s request, using a Hong Kong branch office for the purpose.
Other Macao government officials said 18 North Korean firms were registered in Macao as of late November, and 115 North Koreans carry Macao visas as employees. Twenty have become Macao citizens, they added.
Since Washington threatened to impose sanctions on Banco Delta Asia here, allegedly for helping North Korea launder cash from its alleged dubious business lines, some of those companies have shut down. Ten are still in limited operation, however, these government sources said.
The Wall Street Journal’s Asian edition carried other reports about the continuation of shopping sprees for North Korea’s elite despite the international sanctions. The newspaper said North Koreans, easily identifiable by their Kim Il Sung badges on their breasts, are high-spending customers at department stores, arcades and hotels in Dandong, a Chinese city on the North Korean border.
The newspaper said China’s exports of fur coats to the North increased by 700 percent this year compared to 2005 through October; electronics and cosmetics shipment were also up substantially.
The UN sanctions were imposed only in October, however, making it impossible to draw any connections with the earlier increases.
Separately, a South Korean banker in Hong Kong told the Joong-Ang Ilbo that a North Korean businessman had visited him in an attempt to sell gold bars through one of the South Korean bank branches in Hong Kong.
The banker reportedly spurned the overture, although the transaction would not have violated any South Korean laws or regulations on North-South dealings. He said he simply did not want to get involved in such a deal given the international attention being paid to commercial dealings with North Korea. The banker suggested that the offer may have been a sign of the foreign currency problems North Korea is facing because of the UN sanctions and U.S. pressure on financial dealings with North Korea.
Banco Delta Asia has said that between 2003 and 2005, it had sold 9.2 tons of gold bars that it had purchased from the North, where gold production is estimated to be about 25 tons per year, mostly for export.


by Choi Hyung-kyu


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