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Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.
Paddy Power, the betting shop giant that sponsored U.S. basketball star Dennis Rodman’s controversial trip to North Korea, provided a selection of gifts to Kim Jong Un which may have contravened UN sanctions, it has emerged.
The betting company confirmed that it sent the gifts after accusations surfaced that Rodman gave thousands of dollars in presents to Kim Jong Un during a trip to North Korea in December.
But spokesman Paddy Power, who shares the same name as the company, insisted that sanctions had not been broken when his company sent gifts to North Korea that included an Irish whiskey set, a handbag and a baby’s dress.
“Here’s what [Paddy Power No.2 spokesperson Rory Scott] brought to North Korea on his pre Christmas trip (as recommended by our protocol advisor) – An Irish Whiskey set, a traditional baby dress and a handbag.
“The whiskey set consisted of a bottle of Jameson, a decanter and two glasses … I can confirm that we didn’t buy anything else for Dennis to give to Kim,” Paddy Power’s spokesperson Paddy Power told NK News in an email.
Former U.S. consul to Busan Dennis P. Halpin on Tuesday said that the total cost of birthday gifts given to Kim Jong Un was “reportedly well over $10,000”, and included “‘several hundred dollars’ worth of Irish Jameson whiskey” and “European crystal, an Italian suit for him, and Italian clothing, a fur coat, and an English Mulberry handbag for her (Kim’s wife, Ri Sol Ju).”
But Paddy Power said the value of the gifts it sent to North Korea had been “vastly overestimated” and denied knowledge about some of the items on Halpin’s list.
“We never comment on budgets or costs so I can’t confirm the total value, but it was a fraction of your source’s estimation,” Power said, stating that his company had “no knowledge of Italian suits or fur coats or any of the other things you mentioned.”
Of the items explicitly detailed, precise values are difficult to ascertain. Jameson’s whiskey costs anywhere from $30 to $1,300 per bottle – depending on age and type – while whiskey decanters and glasses can cost anywhere between $19 and $599 per set – depending on material of fabrication, glass or Irish crystal.
When asked if they were aware of the items purchased for North Korea’s leader, Irish Distillers Pernod Ricard, the manufacturer of Jamesons, told NK News that it had “no involvement in this presentation” and “could not comment on anyone choosing to drink Jameson Whiskey or not.”
Following North Korea’s October 2006 nuclear test, the European Union followed UN Security Resolution 1718 by being the first body to define a list of ‘luxury goods’ banned from export to North Korea.
The EU list, which stipulates that “high quality…spirits and spirituous beverages…handbags and similar articles, …[and] … lead crystal glassware” are all banned from export to North Korea, means that gifts such as the Jameson whiskey set and handbag Paddy Power gave to Kim Jong Un may have violated rules.
When asked if they were concerned that their gifts may have broken luxury goods sanctions, Paddy Power, an Irish based company, told NK News: “We are satisfied that we haven’t breached any export control sanctions in relation to this matter. On our pre-Christmas visit to North Korea we brought items of modest value as a token gesture as recommended by a North Korean protocol advisor.”
But a North Korea sanctions expert who requested anonymity said there was serious reason to think sanctions had in fact been broken.
“It is clear from the EU list of goods, the export of which to the DPRK is banned, that the items given by Paddy Power would breach sanctions if exported from the EU.”
However, the expert warned that because China had never published its own list of luxury goods, it was possible that “the goods that Paddy Power gave to Kim were sold (legally) to customers in China and then taken in to the DPRK from there.”
But tightening EU legislation dated April 2013 prohibits “the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer of luxury goods to the DPRK by nationals of Member States … whether originating or not in the territories of Member States.”
Therefore, should Rory Scott – the man that Paddy Power said “brought” the gifts to North Korea – be an EU national, then even purchasing the goods in China would likely constitute a breach.
“If the person carrying the goods to the DPRK were an EU national they would probably fall foul of the EU prohibition on its nationals’ moving banned goods into the DPRK from third countries,” the expert said.
Peter O’Connor, a spokesperson for Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, told NK News that “Ireland applies the UN and EU provisions concerning the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” and warned that “penalties have been established under Irish law for contravening this Regulation.”
Meanwhile, if Dennis Rodman gave the gifts on behalf of sponsor Paddy Power, then U.S. Treasury Executive Order 13551 could apply, which forbids American citizens from “directly or indirectly” importing luxury goods into North Korea.
North Korea watcher and editor of One Free Korea Joshua Stanton told NK News that a U.S. person, knowingly importing luxury goods into North Korea without a license, is potentially punishable by up to 20 years in prison, a $1,000,000 fine, and a $250,000 civil penalty.
“Under Commerce Department regulations, ‘Wine and other alcoholic beverages’ are defined as a ‘luxury good’ and subject to ‘a general policy of denial’ for export licenses, which are required for most exports to North Korea,” Stanton explained.
However, Stanton underscored that Rodman had not yet responded to questions about his alleged gifts to Kim, and that it would be inappropriate to conclude that Rodman violated the law.
Daniel Pinkston of the International Crisis Group, also a personal friend of those closely involved with Rodman’s basketball diplomacy, told NK News that Paddy Power had been made aware of issues surrounding luxury goods in advance of the Rodman trip.
“People involved with the project are aware of UN sanctions and unilateral sanctions targeting the DPRK, including the prohibition of luxury goods exports to the DPRK,” Pinkston told NK News from Seoul.
“I understand that those involved with that part of the project have reviewed the UN sanctions list of banned luxury goods, and that efforts have been made to ensure that the project does not violate any international sanctions against the DPRK,” Pinkston underscored.
Echoing Pinkston’s comments, one source told NK News that many of the gifts provided were related only to sports, following U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s gift of a signed NBA basketball to the late Kim Jong Il in 1999.
GIFT GIVING CULTURE
“Gift-giving is customary in many parts of Asia, including North Korea,” Andrea Berger, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London told NK News.
But while that’s true, she says that Paddy Power’s decision to provide gifts of a “quality appropriate for a head of state,” was “severely misguided.
“The Kim Jong-Un regime and its predecessors are the very reason for an international ban on the transfer of luxury goods to North Korea…Paddy Power’s decision to offer numerous, extravagant gifts subject to that ban is therefore highly questionable,” Berger argued.
Paddy Power refused to answer questions as to why it was giving gifts to Kim Jong Un, irrespective of their monetary value.
However when asked whether it was hoping to expand in to North Korea, it said: “No, we won’t be opening shops there.”
BROADER CONTEXT IMPORTANT
Even if Paddy Power’s gifts constitute a breach of international sanctions, another expert cautioned that a sense of perspective was needed.
“The way this trip is ending only reinforces the utterly misguided nature of the entire endeavor, and in the event that Paddy Power has compounded that by blithely ignoring UN sanctions in the provision of gifts to the Kim family then that issue needs to be addressed,” Chris Green, North Korea expert and international editor at the Daily NK told NK News.
“However, a sense of proportion is essential. If one believes that sanctions are worth enforcing, then these are certainly not the most egregious violations. In the same way as focusing solely on Kenneth Bae is an affront to the rights of the population of North Korea’s political prison camps, so focusing on a bottle of whiskey and a handbag is to rather miss the point of the sanctions regime.”
Paddy Power ended its partnership with Dennis Rodman and his “basketball diplomacy” initiative on Christmas eve, citing changed circumstances in North Korea.
“There has been almost total condemnation of North Korea worldwide, and we’re really responding to that,” a statement made by Paddy Power read.
Additional reporting: Leo Byrne in London
Main picture: Flickr Creative Commons by Hannes Ambrosch