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Kim Jong-un is becoming a more prominent figure on the world stage.
He now frequently leaves North Korea
and welcomes top officials in Pyongyang.
And when looking at the dictator's high-profile public appearances,
it would be difficult not to notice that they all share something in common:
Mercedes.
Mercedes.
Rolls-Royce and more Mercedes.
But how did Kim manage to get these luxury, bulletproof
vehicles — in open violation of an international ban
on luxury goods — to North North Korea?
To answer this question,
we teamed up with the non-profit research group
Center for Advanced Defense Studies,
which published a detailed report on sanctions evasions.
Using shipping and corporate data,
satellite images and interviews,
we investigated a shipment of two bulletproof Mercedes.
These vehicles cost at least $500,000
and are primarily marketed to world leaders.
We followed them through a circuitous network of ports,
apparently designed to cloak their movement,
and onto a ghost ship owned by a Russian businessman
whose company has been accused of evading sanctions.
Our story offers a glimpse into how North Korea skirts
sanctions and how it likely uses
similar techniques to procure far more dangerous goods.
So first, let's take a look at the actual route.
And the trail starts:
in a shipping terminal in Rotterdam in June 2018.
The first part of the journey looks like a regular shipment.
Nothing out of the ordinary.
The cars are on two of the containers on this ship.
From here, they're transported on a major international shipping line.
After a 41 day journey, the cars arrive in China.
We track them to the port of Dalian.
From here, the cars are shipped to Japan,
and from there they are sent in yet another ship
to another port in Busan, South Korea.
And here, the Russian-owned ship at the center of our investigation enters the picture.
It picks up the containers and when it leaves the port, mysteriously vanishes,
turning off its required transponder.
Eighteen days later, the ship reappears,
but now the cars are gone.
And instead, it's carrying coal.
So, what just happened?
Let's take a closer look at this ghost ship.
Its convoluted background offers clues
as to why it was not at all a regular transport.
It used to be called Xiang Jin and had links to North Korea.
But shortly before it gets the cars,
its name changes to DN5505
and its ownership is transferred
to Do Young Shipping, a shell company in the Marshall Islands.
It's Do Young Shipping that's owned by the Russian national.
But you'd never know it because it sails under the flag of the West African nation Togo.
And its safety manager is based in Hong Kong.
Confused? That's the idea.
Using that many jurisdictions is a classic sanctions evasion strategy.
Our reporting also shows that this ship
was trailing the cargo as soon as it entered China.
Do you see it?
It's right here.
Satellite images we found suggest
that it tried to pick up the cars at other ports in Asia.
But the handoff happens weeks later in South Korea.
So where did the containers go?
Vladivostok, Russia.
And here is why we think that:
First, the ship's last reported destination
before the transponder was turned off
was a coal port next to Vladivostok.
We think the cars were offloaded in this area.
Second, the owner of the Russian ghost ship is based in Vladivostok.
His name is Danil Kazachuk.
And he confirmed that he bought and sold the Mercedes
in a phone call to a Times reporter, but offered no further details.
Four months after the cars disappeared,
South Korean officials seized
two of Kazachuk's ships, including the ghost ship,
for alleged illicit trade of coal and oil with North Korea.
Third, we tracked these North Korean transport planes,
which made a rare visit to Vladivostok on Oct. 7 — perfectly timed with the arrival of the containers.
They are the very planes that normally carry Kim's
luxury vehicles and a possible direct transportation link to North Korea.
Our final clue: In January 2019,
the same exact model of armored Mercedes
was spotted on the streets of Pyongyang by the website North Korea News.
The route to Asia.
The ghost ship in Busan.
The North Korean planes.
It's not possible to say if every part of this journey was illicit.
But since 2016, sanctions experts
say that North Korea has used similar techniques
to bring in vital fuel sources and technology for its weapons program.
Which raises the question: How effective are sanctions as a tool to pressure Kim Jong-un to end his nuclear ambitions?
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How Kim Jong-un Gets His $500,000 Mercedes | Visual Investigations

125 Folder Collection
于鈞 published on July 18, 2019    Jerry Liu translated    Evangeline reviewed
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