BOOKMAKER Paddy Power has denied contravening UN sanctions by giving a selection of gifts including Irish whiskey and a handbag to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
The betting firm confirmed it sent the gifts after accusations emerged that US basketball star Dennis Rodman gave thousands of dollars of presents to Kim Jong-un in December. However, the Irish bookmaker said it was "satisfied" that sanctions had not been broken.
“Here’s what [Paddy Power No.2 spokesperson Rory Scott] brought to North Korea on his pre Christmas trip (as recommended by our protocol advisor) – An Irish Whiskey set, a traditional baby dress and a handbag,” the bookmaker said in a statement today.
“The whiskey set consisted of a bottle of Jameson, a decanter and two glasses ... I can confirm that we didn’t buy anything else for Dennis to give to Kim.”
Former U.S. consul to Busan Dennis P. Halpin said on Tuesday that the total cost of birthday gifts given to Kim Jong-un was "reportedly well over $10,000", and included “several hundred dollars’ worth of Irish Jameson whiskey” and “European crystal, an Italian suit for him, and Italian clothing, a fur coat, and an English Mulberry handbag for her (Kim’s wife, Ri Sol-ju).”
But Paddy Power said the value of the gifts it sent to North Korea had been "vastly overestimated" and denied knowledge about some of the items on Halpin's list.
"We never comment on budgets or costs so I can’t confirm the total value, but it was a fraction of your source’s estimation," Power said, pointing out that his company had "no knowledge of Italian suits or fur coats or any of the other things you mentioned".
When asked if they were aware of the items purchased for North Korea's leader, Irish Distillers Pernod Ricard, the manufacturer of Jamesons, said it had "no involvement in this presentation" and "could not comment on anyone choosing to drink Jameson Whiskey or not.”
Following North Korea's October 2006 nuclear test, the European Union followed UN Security Resolution 1718 by being the first body to define a list of 'luxury goods' banned from export to North Korea.
The EU list, which stipulates that "high quality...spirits and spirituous beverages...handbags and similar articles, ...[and] ... lead crystal glassware” are all banned from export to North Korea, means that gifts such as the Jameson whiskey set and handbag Paddy Power gave to Kim Jong Un may have violated rules.
When asked if they were concerned their gifts may have broken luxury goods sanctions, Paddy Power said: "We are satisfied that we haven’t breached any export control sanctions in relation to this matter. On our pre Christmas visit to North Korea we brought items of modest value as a token gesture as recommended by a North Korean protocol advisor."
But a North Korea sanctions expert who requested anonymity said there was serious reason to think sanctions had in fact been broken.
"It is clear from the EU list of goods, the export of which to the DPRK is banned, that the items given by Paddy Power would breach sanctions if exported from the EU."
Paddy Power ended its partnership with Dennis Rodman and his “basketball diplomacy” initiative on Christmas eve, citing changing circumstances in North Korea.
"There has been almost total condemnation of North Korea worldwide, and we’re really responding to that," a statement made by Paddy Power read.
North Korea watcher and editor of One Free Korea Joshua Stanton said that a US person such as Rodman knowingly importing luxury goods into North Korea without a license, is potentially punishable by up to 20 years in prison, a $1,000,000 fine, and a $250,000 civil penalty.
However, Stanton underscored that Rodman had not yet responded to questions about his alleged gifts to Kim, and that it would be inappropriate to conclude that Rodman violated the law.
The Department of Foreign Affairs said Ireland applies the UN and EU provisions concerning North Korea.
“Amongst other things, this prohibits the sale, supply, transfer, or export of luxury goods to the Democratic People’s of Korea,” a spokesman said
“Penalties have been established under Irish law for contravening this Regulation.”
Irish broadcaster Matt Cooper was in North Korea this week to witness the exhibition basketball game in Pyongyang.
The broadcaster, who was working on a documentary for a British production company, revealed in an interview on The Last Word this evening tha every move he made was watched.
"I was accompanied at all times. From the time that I entered the lobby in the hotel when I came down from my room, we weren’t allowed out on our own, we weren’t allowed out on foot we had to drive everywhere," he told Fintan O'Toole on Today FM.
"That was something we had anticipated, we knew they was no chance we were actually going to get out and about and get away from our minders.
"This was unfortunately one of the conditions that we would have to operate under.
"Much to my surprise we were given internet access. We negotiated internet access and got it after two days. Our mobile phones wouldn’t work and there was no wifi in the hotel but we were able to plug in a laptop to find out what was going on back home.
"I was able to ring home and talk to Aileen my wife to fill her in on what was going on but we were working under the assumption that the phones were tapped and that we were being watched at all times."
*Chad O'Carroll is the founder and editor of NK News.