Dutch Customs Seize 90,000 Bottles of Vodka Headed for North Korea
Dutch customs officials reported on Feb. 26, 2019 the seizure of a container containing 90,000 bottles of Russian vodka that was listed as bound for China but believed to be headed for North Korea. This smuggling, intercepted a day before the two-day summit between the leaders of North Korea and the United States in Hanoi, is in breach of United Nations sanctions levied against North Korea.
The container, found to be containing 3000 boxes of 30 bottles of vodka each, was concealed onboard the Nebula — owned by China’s state-owned COSCO shipping company — and hemmed in by the fuselage of an aircraft also bound for China. The Dutch Tax and Customs Administration directed the removal of the container by crane despite concerns about damaging the aircraft.
Spokesman Roul Velleman for the customs agency described the situation as “an incredible story… like something you read in a thriller,” stating that “sources indicated to us that a container was destined for North Korea. That was reason enough for us to act. We obey the foreign ministry and acted in conformity with the international sanctions against North Korea.” While Velleman confirmed that Dutch authorities firmly believed the vodka was destined for North Korea, he also noted that his agency “can’t confirm it was destined for Kim Jong-un.”
Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Sigrid Kaag ordered the seizure on the grounds that “the Security Council of the United Nations has imposed clear sanctions on North Korea, so it is important to enforce those sanctions. The sanctions also govern the import of luxury goods, and so customs was completely justified in unloading that container.”
Timofei Urban, head of the alcohol manufacturer Niva that produced the confiscated vodka, denied knowing his products were bound for North Korea, stating on Feb. 26 that he “only heard about the North Korea news today from the Dutch papers.” He claimed that Niva ships “vodka to places all over the world, including South Korea,” but “never to North Korea.”
Kim Jong-un, formally the Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, was educated in Switzerland and is notorious for having luxurious tastes, with reports from last year claiming that he spent more than 4 billion USD on importing luxury products from China ever since taking power in 2011. Additionally, his family is known to have imported other luxury products such as a seaplane, musical instruments, watches, and furs from overseas. A South Korean analysis stated that these imports alone account for 17.8% of North Korea’s total imports from China in 2017.
Kim arrived in Hanoi on Tuesday to meet with Trump via armored train after traveling over 2800 miles over the course of two and a half days, although his exact route has not been disclosed. This summit intends to discuss relations between the United States and Korea but is not expected to produce any breakthroughs regarding Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.
The last meeting between Trump and Kim Jong-Un was eight months ago in Singapore, a summit that did little to go beyond pre-existing agreements and prior diplomatic initiatives in the realm of denuclearization.
As of right now, the seized bottles are still on the harbourside of the port of Rotterdam. Said Dutch customs agency spokesman Velleman, “Either the bottles will be destroyed or they will be sold — it hasn't been decided yet.”