Four Western ski equipment manufacturers have told NK News they had no involvement in the supply of equipment to North Korea’s recently built Masikryong ski resort, suggesting third party sellers in China and Russia may have been responsible.
But three of the companies said they were approached by North Korean representatives attempting to purchase the equipment directly, in some cases as far back as in 2012.
In all cases the ski companies told NK News that they had ignored North Korea’s direct product requests, citing concern about international sanctions.
CANADIAN SNOW MOBILES
Last Thursday NK News identified several items of ski equipment that may have broken UN sanctions prohibiting the transfer of “luxury goods” to North Korea, produced by Bombardier Recreational Products & Vehicles of Canada, Areco of Sweden, Prinoth of Italy and Pisten Bully of Germany.
Despite uncertainty as to whether the ski equipment broke UN “luxury goods” sanctions, a complete ban on exports to North Korea that includes “automobiles and other motor vehicles” was almost certainly breached – willingly or unwillingly – by Canadian ski-mobile manufacturer Bombardier Recreational Products & Vehicles (BRP).
“In order to directly export to North Korea, an export permit from the Minister of Foreign Affairs is required. None was given (in this case),” spokesperson for Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, Béatrice Fénelon told NK News by email.
“The Department of Foreign Affairs does not investigate or enforce Canadian sanctions, therefore, we have followed up with the appropriate investigative authorities”, Fénelon added.
“We have no link with North Korea. We have no distributors there, no dealers. We don’t do business with North Korea,” Bombardier vice-president of communications and public affairs Pierre Pichette explained.
Although only one snowmobile was spotted in photographs distributed by North Korean media, sources visiting the Masikryong ski resort told NK News that there were several ‘Skidoo’ snowmobiles spotted there.
“How our products made their way into North Korea is an enigma for us. We are trying to understand how, but as you know it might be very difficult. We do business in over 100 countries, so it’s not easy. We don’t have access to the snowmobile, we don’t have the serial number of it, so it’s going to be difficult,” Pichette said, adding that “anybody can go and buy a snowmobile at any one of our dealerships and do whatever they want with it.”
Pichette also confirmed that Bombardier have been in dialogue with Canadian government officials about the issue, saying that the Foreign Ministry appears to “understand” the situation.
ITALIAN AND GERMAN SNOWGROOMERS
Two European companies whose snow groomers were pictured at the Masik Pass resort, raising concerns that North Korea had evaded sanctions on luxury products, have denied supplying the equipment directly to North Korean buyers, despite admitting to having been approached by them previously.
Italian company Prinoth, which produced the two larger snow groomers now used at the resort, told NK News that they “have never sold nor delivered any snow groomer to North Korea and that we do not have any North Korean customers.
“Due to a request last summer from North Korea, we seeked advice from the Italian government. Based on this information we decided to not have any negotations with North Korea,” Prinoth said in a statement to NK News.
The German company Pisten Bully was also quick to deny any involvement. “This is pretty simple. We didn’t sell this snow groomer. We don’t know who sold it. We have strict rules on the export and our complete subsidiaries are not allowed to export. They are only allowed to sell within their countries,” Pisten Bully’s marketing manager Michael Hemsheidt told NK News.
Both companies suggested that the likely source was the resale market in China, which has several well-equipped ski resorts that could have re-sold the equipment to North Korean buyers.
“The volume that we sell to China is 8-10 units each year. But we sell them only to key resorts, though we do know that the used vehicle market is very big. It is possible that a used snow groomer is then sold to another final user by ski resorts or distributors themselves,” Prinoth’s marketing manager Caterina Rothbucher told NK News.
The two companies also said that the snow groomers were not recent models, so it was unlikely that they were purchased new. The Pisten Bully 100 pictured (red, in the above picture) at Masik Pass is one of the oldest models that the company manufactures, whilst the Prinoth BR 350 has been in production since 2000.
The price of second-hand snow groomers varies greatly dependant on age and condition, but can be anywhere between $20,000 to 90,000 per unit.
Following news that at least seven Areco ski-blowers had been spotted at the Masikryong ski resort, CEO of Swedish manufacturer Areco, Johan Erling, told NK News that he had “no idea” how they had turned up in North Korea.
Erling explained that the seven blowers – worth a combined total of up to $259,000 – could have been supplied in contravention of EU regulations prohibiting “articles and equipment for skiing” being provided to North Korea through any number of intermediaries, formal or informal.
Joanna Tillberg, spokesperson for the Swedish National Board of Trade – the government agency responsible for matters related to foreign trade and trade policy – told NK News that she had only read about the case in Swedish media.
“In general, when it comes to breaches of sanctions, the responsibility to examine the legal responsibility in cases like this lies with prosecuting authorities,” she said, adding that if they were to receive any information on potential breaches, the case would be handed over to prosecutors for further investigation.
As of Monday Tillberg said that the Swedish National Board of Trade had not received any information regarding Areco potentially breaching EU rules, pointing out the body would not take action based only on media reports.
Sweden’s National Board of Trade handles requests from specific companies applying for exemptions from prohibitions such as sanctions. Tillberg told NK News that her office had received no requests for exemptions for products to North Korea.
Pictures of the Canadian and European ski equipment in North Korea emerged just months after news that Switzerland amended its national laws to prevent Bartholet Maschinenbau AG Flums from completing a $7.5 million ski lift deal with North Korea.
Additional reporting: Leo Byrne and Chad O’Carroll in London
Four Western ski equipment manufacturers have told NK News they had no involvement in the supply of equipment to North Korea's recently built Masikryong ski resort, suggesting third party sellers in China and Russia may have been responsible.But three of the companies said they were approached by North Korean representatives attempting to purchase the equipment directly, in some cases as far
Ole Jakob Skåtun is a freelance journalist. In addition to reporting on Korean affairs for newspapers in his native Norway, his previous work also includes freelance work from Russia. His Twitter handle is @OleJakobS