Author: Kim Dong Yon / Investigative Journalist, Former ROK Air Force Officer
1. HOW MANY CARS ARE OWNED IN KIM’S PRIVATE COLLECTION AND WHAT ARE THEY?
It is never publicly known how many Kim Jong Un owns but based on the sources familiar to trade sectors in N.Korea, It is estimated that there will be at least 100~300 vehicles inside of special garages in N.Korea.
Based on my analysis, presumably they hide these vehicles in multiple places within dacha (villa) where they have access to well-paved roads including the capital Pyongyang.
These vehicles are not all collected by young leader Kim Jong Un but his father and grandfather. All three have different taste of cars. Grandfather Kim Il Sung loved American made Lincoln and Cadillac, therefore he often gave Lincoln and Cadillac to his sons and cabinet members.
I was able to spot the antique Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham which made between the late 1970s to mid-80s. This particular Cadillac is parked next to N.Korea Embassy to Czech. The Ambassador to Czech is the son of Kim Il Sung, Kim Pyong Il. Kim Pyong Il worked as an Ambassador overseas since 1979. It is highly possible he brought his Cadillac from Pyongyang which he got as a present from his father, Kim Il Sung. He is known as ugly duck among his family that he should keep the distance from the leadership.
Both Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il died with the heart attack and their dead bodies carried by the American made Lincoln Continental Hearse which made in the 1970s. This vehicle is also purchased in Kim Il Sung’s era. What is ironic is that N.Korea often criticize the US as the cunning cat but after they die, their body carried by American Car.
In 2010, sources in the border between China and N.Korea said that there was a special container went into N.Korea. Within the container, there were notable vehicles: approximately 2010 or 2011 version of Mercedes-Benz S600 Pullman Guard, presumably 2010 Audi R8 and Audi RS5. The approximated net worth of the transported vehicles to N.Korea was around $3,100,000 USD. (3.1million). I suspected the owner of Audi R8 and RS5 is Kim Jong Un.
The year 2010 is the time when Kim Jong Il is still alive therefore the original order of vehicles made by the Kim Jong Il. Kim Jong Il is well known Mercedes-Benz Maniac. This is why former President of S.Korea Roh Mu Hyun when he visited Pyongyang in 2007, he switched his VIP vehicle from BMW to Benz S-Class because Roh knew the taste of Kim Jong Il.
Kim Jong Un is unlike his father and grandfather, he studied in Swiss where known as a snowy and chilly environment. This environment requires a lot of 4WD (Four Wheel Drive) vehicles. Therefore it is easy to see vehicles equipped with AWD(Always All-Wheel Drive) such as Audi. In Young Kim’s eye, Audi is all weather proven car. Therefore the owner of Audis which above mentioned is presumably Kim Jong Un. Kim Jong Un’s Audi R8 is presumably equipped with V10 engine because Audi updated R8 engine from V8 to V10 in 2010. Also, it is the year when Audi launched and sold its first RS5.
In January of 2017, Bangladesh Customs arrested the N.Korean diplomat Han at the Dhaka for smuggling of a luxury vehicle, Rolls-Royce Ghost. Standard Ghost’s price tag is about $320,000 USD. Diplomat Han reported his vehicle to the Customs as BMW X5. A brand new 2019 BMW X5 would cost about $60,000. About 6 brand new BMW X5 would be a similar price to Rolls-Royce Ghost.
These are only very few revealed cases of N.Korea’s automobile transaction. This is the tip of the iceberg. There are many more unknown and unreported cases. If you look at the N.Korea Embassy to overseas, those embassies all at least own one Mercedes-Benz vehicles.
N.Korea Embassy to Malaysia owns at least 5 luxury vehicles: Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Jaguar XJ, Audi A6, Lexus LS, and BMW X5. N.Korean Ambassador to Malaysia owns 2 luxury vehicles: Jaguar XJ and Lexus LS with the number plate 28-01-DC. The number 28 means N.Korea (Country designation), 01 means the rank of embassy meaning Ambassador, and the last two alphabets DC stands for Diplomatic Corp in Malaysia. It is rare to see one Ambassador owns 2 luxury vehicles country like N.Korea. N.Korea’s GDP per capita about $1,800USD which is lower than Syria.
Based on what Kim showed to the public through various summits and meetings, Kim Jong Un owns famous 2010~2011 Mercedes-Benz S600 Pullman Guard (W221 based), Maybach 62s, Rolls-Royce Ghost, Rolls-Royce Phantom, Lexus LX570, Mercedes-Benz G wagon, Mercedes-Maybach S600 Guard (W222 based) and more.
2. HOW DO THEY GET AROUND SANCTIONS TO IMPORT THEM AND REPAIR THEM?
China is the key country for all the imports and repairs of vehicles. N.Korea already have multiple joint venture companies in China. Many of them have their offices in Beijing, Shanghai, and Pyongyang.
I once published the article, the list of 100 companies that are doing business with N.Korea [단독입수] 북한과 합작한 해외기업 100개 최초공개 in 2016. If you look at them more than half of them are joint companies between China and N.Korea. Some of these companies are paper companies which serve as the money laundry, dissemination of supernote, illegal trafficking, smuggling of luxury goods.
Recent UN panel report also revealed a Chinese man who known as George Ma worked for N.Korea to import vehicles to Pyongyang. He also used a Chinese front company.
In 2004, N.Korea diplomats to Egypt arrested for illicit drug, Clonazepam smuggling. In the same year, N.Korea diplomats to Bulgaria sold Captagon in Turkey. Captagon is a well-known narcotic for ISIL combatants.
I analyzed the motorcycles which escorted Moon Jae In in Pyongyang, they are also coming from China. Those particular motorcycles are CF650TR. They are made by a Chinese motorcycle company, CF Moto. It is a joint venture company between Austrian motorcycle maker, KTM (well-known offroad motorcycle maker) and Chinese maker CF Moto. This shows how China is helping N.Korea with its transportations.
As you can see, N.Korea is using China as their alias front company or proxies and their diplomats overseas to smuggle vehicles to Pyongyang. If you can smuggle cars to Pyongyang, it is even easier to smuggle car parts because parts are smaller in size and ship them with other legal products can avoid the checks.
3. HAS HE ALWAYS HAD A FASCINATION FOR LUXURY CARS?
Yes. If you look at his childhood, you can learn many how his character builds up. He went to one of a top-level international school in Swiss where only children of high officials are coming. He always accompanied by bodyguards, he treated as a special child. He lived his childhood in the obsession of many western cultures. Kim Jong Un loved Basketball even though he was not a good player. This is why Kim invited Dennis Rodman to Pyongyang not only once but twice.
Kim is known as only drinking Perrier sparkling water, and only eats Emmental cheese. When he visited Vietnam for US-DPRK Summit, his chefs also visited to cook the menu. Local Hotel chefs who met with N.Korea chefs were shocked how many luxurious foods they brought from Pyongyang.
If you see his appetite for food, we can understand his taste for cars. Kim Jong Un once came to greet Pompeo in Rolls-Royce Phantom when he visited in Pyongyang. Rolls-Royce is one of the most expensive vehicles on earth. Kim Jong Un’s Phantom is not just regular phantom but bullet-proof custom built. It has stretched long wheelbase. The base Phantom would cost about $460,000 USD. Kim’s phantom would cost much more.
4. HOW ARE THOSE VEHICLES MODIFIED FOR KIM JONG UN?
Kim Jong Un is known as security-phobic. This is why his vehicle is always guarded by 12 specially trained bodyguards. All of Kim’s vehicles are bullet-proof, fire-proof, gas-proof and explosive-proof. There are many bullet-proof ratings for vehicles. Kim’s 2010~2011 Mercedes-Benz S600 Pullman Guard is known as BR6 which is about VR8~9 ratings in VPAM standards. His Rolls-Royce Phantom is slightly better protection because of its newer model year, BR7 which is about VR9~10.
Especially, Rolls-Royce Phantom is covered with about half inch thickness AR500 and Military Spec steel sheets. These vehicles are capable of blocking most handguns and rifles with Full Metal Jacket. In order to penetrate such vehicles requires specified sniper rifles. Most of Kim Jong Un’s vehicles are comes with BR6 ratings.
In terms of the performance of vehicles, two significant modifications are applied. One is ECU chip-tune and the second is the Brake tuning. ECU stands for Electronic Computer Unit which is the brain of the vehicle. It can input extra horsepower around 50HP. You can squeeze more horses but it can damage the hardware of engines. Kim’s Benz S600 Pullman Guard already came with V12 engine so it can pump out about 510hp. It also came as a stock to have double calipers for the front wheels so it can handle the extra weight better. However, its turning radius is wide due to its stretched body. So the agility and maneuverability are limited. The vehicle is about 10 years old now so the maximum performance of the vehicle is at least degraded about 10~30%.
5. HOW ELSE ARE THOSE VEHICLES MADE SAFE?
I have spotted suspected company which I call it as a “Company X.” I cannot reveal the name of the company, and location of the company because it requires further verification with international organizations which I have already notified them. So sooner or later, International and National entities will do the proper process. Also, I am open and ready to talk about this matter with the related entities because this matter is closely tied with the national security of CONUS and its allies, S.Korea.
6. WHAT IS THE CAR INDUSTRY LIKE IN NORTH KOREA AND WHO CAN AFFORD TO BUY SUCH CARS?
Ironically, N.Korea is also producing cars by themselves. However, most of its technologies are borrowed from S.Korea and licensed production from former Eastern Bloc and European Car brands. They put strange names for their cars. One example would be the “whee-param.” It means “whistle” in Korean.
N.Korea always advertise their vehicles as the world’s best but Kim Jong Un and his cabinet never ride them but the general public. Even the general public cannot afford to buy N.Korea made vehicles. Most of the people travel by bicycle or just walk.
Those who own a car in N.Korea are high-class of society. These people are allowed to live in the capital, Pyongyang, the paradise city of N.Korea. Many of vehicles are second-hand vehicles from Japan. These vehicles are often smuggled through N.Korea’s front company in Japan, Cho Chong Ryun (조총련).
7. WHAT OTHER TYPES OF TRANSPORT DOES KIM JONG UN OWNS?
Kim is not like some rich private company owner but a dictator of the evil regime so that he can have all kinds of transportation. His Special Train which he used to Vietnam Summit is one of other transportation he owns. This train is often used by his father, Kim Jong Il because Kim Jong Il, unlike his young son, he had acrophobia that he only used Train to travel abroad, especially China and Russia.
Many suspected this train is made in Russia but in fact based on my analysis this train is made in China. This train made in Jiangsu Province China and about 3~4 of them delivered to N.Korea in the early 2000s. The age of the train is more than 15 years old. It uses a China-made advanced train control system, LKJ-2000. This equipment is known to use 2G signals to communicate with other trains and control center. Besides N.Korea and China, Ethiopia uses this type of system.
8. CAN KIM JONG UN DRIVE? IF SO, HOW GOOD HE CAN DRIVE?
Many want to know about Kim Jong Un’s Driving skills.
In N.Korea’s textbook for young children, they learn about the heroic ability of Kim Jong Un. When we the world look at Batman and Superman, Kim Jong Un is the Superman figure in N.Korea.
Therefore in their textbook says Kim Jong Un at the age of 3 was able to drive a car and he can run down the hill over 60 mph. Also, at the age of 9, he was able to race a boat with foreigners. Kim was able to reach about 125mph. The textbook even specified the maker of the boat, “Smoky Mountain.” If this is correct then it should be at least 20 years ago due to the age of Kim Jong Un. Kim is about early 30 years old, he was born in late 1983.
So I actually contacted and interviewed the boat maker, Smoky Mountain in 2015. There was no boat maker named as Smoky Mountain but “Mountain.” Mountain is the boat maker in the US. I asked them about N.Korea’s claim and the representative of Mountain, Nick Williams responded that they never sold a boat to N.Korea but S.Korea 10 years ago. The boat they sold to S.Korea cannot reach 125 mph but 40 mph and they doubt that their boat ended up in N.Korea. Mr. Williams responded to me that N.Korea’s claim is so ridiculous.
However, there is a more realistic claim about Kim’s driving ability through N.Korea defector community in Seoul. Kim sometimes drives his Mercedes Benz at evening in the city of Pyongyang. It is not specified what model of Benz but based on their description, it is one of his VIP vehicles. After Kim’s city driving, he went back to his cabinet and criticized the Pyongyang drivers as “83 drivers.” 83 driver means “a dumb driver” in N.Korea. Shortly after Kim’s complain, many drivers in Pyongyang got arrested and got the tickets from the police. This indicates that he can drive a car but it is still not sure about his criticism of bad drivers in Pyongyang could be an excuse for his poor driving ability.
As we know, many supercars like Audi R8 or Italian Exotic cars requires some fine driving skills because even famous soccer player like Cristiano Ronaldo once crashed his Ferrari. You do need some physical reaction to control the high horsepower midship supercars. Especially the controlling of oversteer of the vehicle. If you imagine big fat Kim stuck in the tight cockpit of supercar and driving them fast is somewhat difficult for him.
9. WHY IS THE UNITED NATIONS (UN) HIGHLIGHTING THE CAR ISSUE AND SEEKING VIN NUMBERS NOW?
The UN has been trying to make more effective sanctions against N.Korea. For example, to make sanctions on a person, you need detailed information about that person. If the UN does not specify the person, North Korea can avoid the sanctions at any time. It is similar to the FBI Wanted announcement. This is why when the UN apply sanction on a person, the UN even reveal their passport number, social security number, and even biomedical data. The automobile is no exception. All automobile comes with designated VIN which stands for Vehicle Identification Number. It is like a social security number of US citizen. If the UN acquire these VIN, the UN can have all the record of the vehicle. Where they made, what modifications are done, what insurance they have, what accidents they have, what parts have been replaced. So the VIN is critical information for the proper and realistic sanction to impose N.Korea.
If the UN have VIN numbers of the vehicles then Kim Jong Un cannot move around with those sanction imposed Benz. If so, Kim in the future either walk around or ride N.Korea made vehicles to avoid the violation of sanction. Providing luxurious cars to Kim Jong Un is a crime and those who support such delivery is also a crime. Now, I found the suspected company X which made and transferred these luxury vehicles to Pyongyang so we have a better chance to search the VINs.
10. WHAT IS SUSPECTED COMPANY X AND ARE THEY BREAKING LAWS?
Company X is the privately owned company which makes a profit by selling special cars to overseas. Their customers are from all over the world. Almost all vehicles in N.Korea were the product of this company X. I cannot reveal anymore because I can’t make a comment to benefit the enemy. I am here to help the US and International Community, not N.Korea.
To answer this question about Company X’s breaking law issue.
Yes, this can be viewed in 2 ways based on the US legal statute. One is Criminal matter, the other is Intelligence matter. It depends on which side belongs the punishment will vary by the US law.
First, Intelligence matter. Benefiting the foreign powers with acknowledgment is the violation of Espionage Act 1917 (Title 18) Section 794, and the maximum punishment can be the death penalty and life imprisonment. It can be also published by the Foreign Agent Registration Act. Those who worked with foreign powers can be viewed as a foreign agent by US law. Even attempt to benefitting foreign power can be punished with the same act with section 793.
Second, Criminal matter. If the suspected company X only making a vehicle and not knowing where those vehicles went then it can be criminal matter because there are no ties with the foreign power.
However, based on the UN’s recent report, Company X aware of the foreign power. A person who contacted this company was a Chinese businessman. It is highly possible the former matter would fit for the punishment.
about the author:
Dong Yon Kim earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the George Washington University in 2009. After completing his undergraduate degree, Dong Yon served as a ROK Airforce officer in ROK-US Combined Osan AFB, South Korea as a ROK-US Coordination officer and Weapon Director at the Korea Air and Space Operations Center (KAOC).
After his service, he worked for the Chosun News, a major newsmaker in S.Korea as an Investigative Journalist. He covered N.Korea and International security and affairs that he interviewed various opinion leaders: a Former Director of National Intelligence (DNI), Dannis C. Blair, a Former USFK Deputy Gen. Jan-Marc Jouas, a Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kono Taro, a President of National Endowment for Democracy (NED) Carl Gershman, and EU ambassador to Seoul more.
He has published multiple Exclusive investigative article, “7 pieces of evidence which prove the link between N.Korea and the ISIL,” “Analysis of N.Korea driven cyberattack: 2014 Sony Hacking and 2017 WannaCry,” “Kim Jong Un’s uncle, Kim Pyong Il’s hidden Cadillac in Czech,” “The list of 100 companies that are doing business with N.Korea,” few got the attention from the United Nations (UN).
He is the author of Unintended Future: for the mankind who want to know the unknown future which explains the detailed descrbtion of Industrial revolution 4.0 and beyond.