North Korean elite officials enjoy lives of relative luxury while the vast majority of the population are left to scrape a living with many starving to death
A despot in a tiny ‘communist’ country has splashed cash on luxury goods for a tiny elite in a state where the majority can barely eat.
Kim Jong-Un, the brutal leader of North Korea spent £122,000 on racy women’s underwear, including bras, girdles, corsets, braces, suspenders and garters in the space of a year as his population suffers in destitution, new data has suggested. Trade figures show the oppressive regime brought in a range of highly expensive goods in 2022, the most recent year with data available.
These included the underwear, which, it is thought will eventually be found in the wardrobes of the country’s narrow elite and so-called ‘Pleasure Squad’ of 2,000 women and girls reportedly hired to provide officials and guests with entertainment. However, the shocking spending also included some £2,675,000 worth of spirits and liqueurs, mostly coming from China. And North Koreans could access £12.6 million worth of tobacco products that year, including cigars, cigarettes and cigarillos.
The exclusive upper tier of the regime also enjoyed champagne, with sparkling wine imports valued at just £15,000, which would be paired with a tiny £38,000 worth of Chinese cheese. And the entertainment spending did not stop there with senior officials able to enjoy a game of pinball, the country importing some £203,000 worth of video game consoles and parlour games, while ordinary citizens say food is so scarce they often have to watch their neighbours starve to death.
The underwear cost, however, pales in comparison to the £2.7 million the state coughed up in 2016. The struggling country is reported to have imported a huge quantity of pants from China, doubling 2015’s record, for the Kippumjo, or ‘Pleasure Squad’. Defectors have spoken candidly about the horrifying reality of the collectives ‘maintained’ by generations of North Korean leaders, expected to perform sexualised entertainment to high-ranking party officials and their families, as well as foreign guests.
It has been alleged that some of the unlucky girls chosen to be a part of this sordid ‘tradition’ are as young as 13 and have been taken from school before being subjected to medical tests to check they are virgins prior to a horrendous fate of a life of sexual servitude. Citizens who have managed to escape the regime have alleged that they attended drunken sex parties where women would have their pubic hair shaved as a forfeit if they lost games.
The trade data has also suggested that the country’s elites enjoy a luxury while the wider population subsists on average wages as low as £4.40 per day. Sweet-toothed North Koreans imported £2.1 million worth of chocolate in 2022 – a recovery to pre-pandemic highs after slumping to just £738,000 in 2020 and £566,000 in 2021.
Beer is also making a comeback, with the £113,000 spent dwarfing the paltry £7,000 figure recorded in 2021, however, again, that figure is nowhere near the £10.8 million coughed up in 2019. There is also some confusion about toilet habits, with the population spending just £80,000 on imported toilet paper in 2022 after spending £675,000 in 2020 and £1.13 million in 2019.
Some foreign cuisines may have been on the menu in 2022, with the country importing £521,000 worth of pasta. Italy herself imported £90 million worth in the same year. Fruit was not so popular for the regime, with no recorded imports of pineapples, avocados or mangoes in 2022. And melons seemed to be off the shopping list too, down from £73,000 worth in 2020, £2.66 million in 2019 and £2.77 million in 2018.
There was also little space for entertainment in North Korea’s economy. Some £2,000 was spent on festival/carnival entertainment including magic tricks and novelty jokes, a fall from £61,000 in 2019. Sweets, too, proved unpopular, making up just £86,000 worth of imports. North Korea did import some games, however, spending £203,000 on foreign video game consoles/parlour games (such as pinball machines) in 2022.
Musicians also lost out, with just £4,000 worth of stringed instruments (guitars, violins etc) coming into the country compared to £201,000 worth in 2018. China provided the country’s elite with some £46,000 worth of perfume but has stopped exporting fancy foreign wrist-watches, the data suggests. In 2018, the country sold North Korea just £31,000 worth of watches, a figure with which you would struggle to buy a top-end Swiss timepiece.
Trade with China has become progressively more important to the regime, with £729,871,000 worth of products in 2022 – 98.1 percent of all items brought into the country – up from 2021 (£188,000,000) and 2020 (£382,000,000) but far way from the £1.66 billion recorded for 2018. The UK’s total product imports in 2022 were calculated to be £665,635,859,000. Data on North Korean compiled by Trade Map is based on bilateral trade flows reported by the country’s trading partners.