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Report: North Korea likely imported Maybachs via China, Russia

The report details several methods likely used to dodge sanctions that bar direct sales of luxury goods to the country.

North Korea may have used a circuitous shipping strategy to import two Maybach limousines for leader Kim Jong Un in violation of UN sanctions, according to a Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS) report.

Daimler earlier this year said it had "no idea" how the country was able to import several luxurious cars, including at least two armored S600 Pullman Guard vehicles that transported Kim Jong Un during foreign summits.

An analysis of shipping records and other publicly available information showed that the vehicles originated in Germany before moving to the Netherlands, Thailand, China, Japan, and South Korea.

Two containers, each loaded with a limousine, departed the port of Busan and set sail north toward the stated destination of Nakhodka in Russia. The vessel's Automatic Identification Signal (AIS), which tracks the ship's location, disappeared while still in Korean waters. The signal did not reappear for 18 days, around the same area as the ship was heading back south.

Local harbor records from Nakhodka and nearby Russian ports do not show an arrival or departure for the ship. When it arrived back in Busan, the vessel submitted a bill of lading to South Korean customs authorities that claimed it had imported bulk anthracite coal from Nakhodka, despite no record of its arrival at the Russian port.

Coinciding with dates that the vessel was not transmitting its AIS signal, three heavy-lift cargo jets reportedly traveled from Pyongyang, North Korea, to Vladivostok, Russia.

"When asked for comment, the North Korean consulate in Vladivostok reportedly did not provide an explanation for the unscheduled flights," C4ADS wrote in its lengthy report (PDF). "We have not uncovered direct evidence that the overlapping visits of the cargo jets and the DN5505 to the Russian Far East are related. However, given the heavy lift cargo capacity of the planes and their role in transporting Kim Jong Un's armored limousines, it is possible that the cargo jets could have loaded the Mercedes."

The researchers believe their findings may be useful for global law enforcement in enforcing the UN sanctions. The report also argues that some of the same tricks likely used to transport the Mayback limos may be employed to move more dangerous cargo such as weapons.

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