Russia’s embassy to the DPRK on Tuesday rejected claims made in a recent report by the United Nations Panel of Experts (PoE) concerning a shipment of 90,000 bottles of vodka said to be bound for North Korea.
The statement, carried on the embassy’s Facebook page, comes in response to a section in the PoE’s mid-term sanctions report, released last week.
That section detailed the February 21 seizure by the Netherlands of a shipment of “90,000 bottles of Russian vodka for a total of USD 27,125.”
The goods, defined by the Dutch government and the European Union as constituting luxury goods prohibited for export to North Korea, were “ultimately destined for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” it said.
In response, this week the Russian embassy argued that it is not clear if the shipment was destined for the DPRK and that, if it were, it would not have necessarily violated sanctions on luxury goods.
“Despite the absence of a convincing evidence base, the emphasis in the text of the report is placed in such a way that the whole case is closed,” the statement said.
“Our company is suspected to have violated the existing UN Security Council resolutions regarding the ban on the sale and transfer of luxury goods to the DPRK, since it was concluded that this product can be sold in North Korea,” it continued.
While admitting that “we do not have information about the final recipient of this shipment,” the embassy sought to highlight the ambiguity concerning the definition of the “luxury goods” prohibited for import into the DPRK.
“In the text of the UN Security Council resolution No. 1718, adopted on October 14, 2006, there are no specific explanations of what kind and quality of alcohol… can be attributed as ‘luxury goods’,” it said, pointing to Russian law defining “luxury” alcohol as needing to be over 5000 rubles ($75) per unit.
In this case, the embassy said, “the price of one bottle of vodka… was only $0.30. Thus, the charges against the supplier and, indirectly, Russia are absolutely groundless.”
But despite these claims, EU law determines that all “wines (including sparkling), beers, spirits and spirituous beverages” constitute luxury goods prohibited for export to North Korea.
As a result, Dutch customs would be legally required to seize any such shipment they believed was bound for the DPRK.
Speaking to Dutch newspaper the Algemeen Dagblad in February, customs official Arno Kooij would not say precisely how local authorities had learned the vodka was intended for North Korea.
“What I can say, based on the information we had, we suspected that this container would fall under the sanctions regime for North Korea,” he said.
“We suspected that this vodka would not go to China, but to North Korea.”
Moscow’s claims this week also echo those made by the Chinese government in response to the UN panel’s inquiry about the case — a response carried in the PoE’s mid-term report.
“Based on the information obtained by the Chinese side, DPRK-related factors are not found in this case,” Beijing is quoted as having said.
“China proposes that the Panel request relevant Member State to provide solid evidence to show that the DPRK is the final destination of the goods,” it continued.
“Vodka is not clearly specified as prohibited item by the Security Council, and the Panel’s investigation on this case lacks sufficient legal basis.”
Last week’s PoE report argued that North Korea has continued to import luxury goods “in violation of sanctions.”
Among these imports were Mercedes-Maybach S-class limousines and a range of other luxury cars seen in leader Kim Jong Un’s entourage.
Edited by James Fretwell
Featured image: Dutch Customs, modified by NK News