Writing at The Weekly Standard today, Dennis Halpin informs us that Dennis Rodman (no relation) was bringing more than his august presence to Kim Jong Un’s birthday party. Halpin, citing a “diplomatic source” he understandably won’t name but says is reliable, claims that Rodman was also carrying “several hundred dollars’ worth of Irish Jameson whiskey,” “European crystal, an Italian suit for him, and Italian clothing, a fur coat, and an English Mulberry handbag” for Kim’s wife, Ri Sol Ju.
The level of detail here is compelling. According to Halpin’s source, the total value of the gifts is “well over $10,000.” Halpin is a former U.S. Consul in Busan, Korea, a former House committee staffer, a scholar at Johns Hopkins’s School of Advanced International Studies, and (full disclosure) a good friend of mine. I trust Dennis Halpin, but I obviously can’t vouch for the source who provided him the information. The circumstances would suggest that the source’s government collected detailed intelligence, which it now seeks to publicize. Furthermore, Halpin’s information is only current up to the point of Rodman’s arrival in Beijing, so it doesn’t prove that Rodman actually brought his gifts into North Korea.
Those questions, however, should be easy to answer. Ask Dennis Rodman anything and he’ll talk. The man can’t keep his mouth shut.
In his article, Halpin notes that bringing luxury goods into North Korea is prohibited by U.N. Security Council resolutions (several of them, in fact). Those sanctions were first imposed in 2006, after North Korea’s first nuclear test, as a response to Kim Jong Il’s obscene luxury purchases as his people went hungry. Most North Koreans starve to death out of sight and out of mind, but a North Korean guerrilla journalist did film this victim in June 2010, a few months before her decomposed body was found in the fields nearby.
A U.N. report recently found that 84% of North Korean households can’t find enough to eat, yet Kim Jong Un recently spent $300 million — three times what the World Food Program recently asked foreign governments to donate to feed hungry North Koreans — on such amenities as a ski resort, a water park, a dolphinarium, an amusement park, and a 3-D cinema.
But since when has anyone enforced a U.N. resolution against North Korea? For example, if Chinese customs inspected Rodman’s gifts and let them onto the flight for Pyongyang, that should tell you all you need to know about China’s compliance with the U.N. Security Council resolutions it voted for.
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Unfortunately for Rodman, in 2010, President Obama signed an implementing executive order, Executive Order 13,551, that provides for some harsh penalties for any U.S. person found “to have, directly or indirectly, imported, exported, or reexported luxury goods to or into North Korea.”
Executive Order 13,551 is promulgated under the authority of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, 50 U.S.C. app. sec. 1701 et seq., and authorizes the Treasury Department “to employ all powers granted to the President” under the IEEPA to enforce it. As Treasury makes clear, those powers include the criminal penalties provided in Section 206 of the IEEPA, including up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $1,000,000. There are also civil penalties.
The definition of “luxury goods” is found at Supplement 1 to 15 C.F.R. Part 746. Rodman’s gifts clearly fall within the proscribed categories. In fact, according to Section 746.4 of that Part, licenses for the export of “designer clothing,” “fashion accessories,” and “wine and other alcoholic beverages” to North Korea are subject to “a general policy of denial.”
Although exports to North Korea are not always prohibited, they must be licensed by the Treasury Department. Treasury imposes export licensing requirements on sanctioned countries to ensure that U.S. exports don’t provide targeted governments with sensitive technology or violate U.N. Security Council resolutions, which the U.S. is obligated to enforce. Violations of Executive Order 13,551 are also prohibited under a Treasury regulation, 31 C.F.R. sec. 510.201(b).
The fact that these were gifts seems to be of little consequence. The executive order prohibits imports, exports, and reexports, and doesn’t make the payment of compensation a necessary element of a violation.
(As I noted recently, U.S. sanctions against North Korea are actually much, much weaker than those pertaining to Iran, Cuba, Sudan, and Burma. They are more analogous to our sanctions against Belarus and Zimbabwe. Although North Korea is holding one U.S. citizen captive and recently held another for several weeks over his Korean War service, there are no travel sanctions preventing U.S. citizens from visiting North Korea.)
Halpin also alleges that Irish bookmaker Paddy Power financed Rodman’s trip due to contractual obligations. Financing Rodman’s trip wouldn’t necessarily mean that Paddy Power financed luxury gifts to Kim Jong Un, but under EU sanctions regulations, it is prohibited “to sell, supply, transfer or export, directly or indirectly, luxury goods” to North Korea, including high quality “spirits and spirituous beverages,” “handbags and similar articles,” “garments,” and “lead crystal glassware.”
I don’t know if Rodman had an export license for his gifts, of course. If he did, that should be a scandal for the Treasury Department that issued the license, the State Department that denied any U.S. government involvement in Rodman’s trip, and the administration.
I strongly doubt, however, that Rodman had a license. If I’m right about that, and if Rodman exported those items into North Korea, he’d be well advised to stop talking and lawyer up. Having done a fair amount of criminal defense work in the Army, however, it’s my experience that criminal suspects almost never understand this intuitively. In Rodman’s case, it’s especially doubtful that his good sense can suppress his compulsion to attract attention. And if you saw this today, you’d be hard pressed to disagree:
[The expressions on the faces of the other players: priceless.]
My guess is that any reporter who simply asks Rodman what he carried to North Korea will elicit an admissible, and probably incriminating, statement.
Having said this, I’ve already explained why Rodman has, inadvertently, done a tremendous service for the cause of human rights in North Korea by unwittingly publicizing the horrors there. More importantly, his association with Kim Jong Un is likely discrediting the North Korean dictator among his minions, and could even hasten his downfall.
Given the choice, I would rather see Rodman stigmatized and shunned as an international imbecile-at-large than made into a martyr for his ideas, however repellent. Ideally, the feds would fine him just enough to keep him from profiting from his endorsements, but not enough to keep him from going back to Pyongyang, while running his mouth all the way there and back.
Update: According to North Korea’s official “news” service, “Rodman presented Kim Jong Un with a gift he prepared with the deepest respect for him.” No further details.