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How Kim Jong Un Got Mercedes-Benz Pullman Limos Home to North Korea

Clifford Atiyeh
Photo credit: Korea Summit Press Pool/Getty Images

From Car and Driver

  • Researchers at a Washington, D.C., think tank, cited by the Wall Street Journal, have offered explanations as to how a pair of Mercedes-Benz limousines ended up in North Korean hands.
  • They can't totally explain how Kim Jong Un was spotted in an S600 Pullman Guard more than a year ago.
  • His possession of the luxury limos is in apparent violation of international sanctions against North Korea.

Kim Jong Un must be used to convoluted means of getting at luxuries that the repressed populace he rules over cannot hope to touch. How else to explain why the North Korean dictator would pay a million dollars for a couple of 10-year-old Mercedes-Benz limousines?

International export sanctions on North Korea, intended to choke the militarized regime into submission, may mean Kim can't wipe his nose with Kleenex or sip a Sprite. But he's plenty capable of rolling in German luxury sedans that weren't sold in his country. We first saw Kim basking in Benz ownership last year with a dozen of his guards running alongside the car's flanks. But now the Wall Street Journal has a fascinating report that we highly recommend on how and why this may have happened.

The short version is that Washington think-tank researchers tracked shipments of two Mercedes-Benz S600 Pullman Guard limos from the Netherlands to North Korea over a four-month period. The cars left Rotterdam last June for China, where they left again in August for Japan. By late September they took a sojourn in South Korea before arriving in Nakhodka, a Russian port city just east of Vladivostok.

That's what the cargo ship's log allegedly said. According to the WSJ, the ship "went radio silent for 18 days" while Kim's twin Benzes were offloaded in Vladivostok to rendezvous with three North Korean cargo jets. When the ship turned its radio back on, it turned back to South Korea hauling coal without any black bulletproof sedans. In January, Kim publicly basked in Benz ownership with one of the alleged cars in that shipment. Then photos surfaced in April during a meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Vladivostok, where AP photographers spotted the Pullman with state flags and Kim's gold seal on the back door. According to the AP, Kim also had a Maybach 62S in tow. That Maybach could be seen trailing a Pullman with Kim and Chinese president Xi Jinping hopping out the roof—clearly modified to ape the Maybach 62S Landaulet—during a June parade in Pyongyang.

It's unclear, as things tend to be with black-market trade involving a rogue nation that throws middle fingers to the world and practically engages in population mind control, if the two cars in the WSJ report are one or more of the same ones seen last year.

If all is correct, what's obvious is that Kim paid $500,000 each for cars that were state-of-the-art in 2009. That's bad but not exactly horrible depreciation for a rare factory-upfitted, bomb-resistant car that cost nearly a million when new and of which barely a dozen were made each year. The V-12 engines in his cars are essentially identical to those in the current-gen Maybach-branded Pullmans that retail for roughly the same cost.


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