Sanctions Useful Idiocy

Source: Dennis Rodman brought luxury gifts to Kim Jong Un (and that’s punishable by 20 years in prison).

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 millionthree 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.

~  ~  ~

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.)

Rodman, who has compared North Korea’s political prison camps to prisons in the United States, could soon gain some first-hand experience in (at least) one side of that equation.

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.


  1. I don’t know what to think of all of this. The guy is an imbecile, that much is clear. But can someone really be that ignorant to the plight of the North Korean people?

    I think he’s just drinking the kool-aid like that creepy Spanish guy who runs Korean Friendship Association.

    If this is true, then I hope there are consequences for him. He’s nothing but a mouthpiece of the regime.

    They keep talking about cultural exchange, and that this is not about politics. Of course this is not about politics. What is political about a tyrant who spends 2.5% of his country’s GDP on a ski resort?


  2. I’d say imprisonment is off the table for Rodman. He’ll get away scot-free. Fining him is slightly more plausible, but I’m doubtful that even that will happen.


  3. Putting that man in jail would be a mercy.

    Let us hope his poor judgement makes him do a much harm to his Dear Friend as possible.


  4. An utterly brilliant posting.

    Rodman lives in Newport Beach, California still, I believe. I’ve sent a print copy of your post and of the web address to the United States Attorney for the Central District of California with a request for prosecution. The probability is that it will be ignored. But his address is
    Andre Birotte, Jr., Esq.
    US Attorney
    Central District of California
    1200 US Courthouse
    312 North Spring Street
    Los Angeles, CA 90012.

    The more letters he receives, the more likely he is to act.


  5. The author and publisher should be careful, especially regarding Paddy Power and libel laws in the UK. PP has very deep pockets and very savvy lawyers…It is very easy to get dragged into court in the UK for libel accusations.


  6. Dennis Rodman has lost it. Either a genius or a master moron. Could he be working for our country gathering Intel? Seems unlikely since dictator killed his own uncle last month but Rodman’s behavior is very strange. I’ve seen him talk before and hes the type to be high and laid back all the time. His speech during interview gave me the impression he was acting out an episode of WWF Hulkamania! Something is not right in this picture. there is more to this story than meets the eye. How does this dictator trust Dennis Rodman? Basketball? No, this man doesnt trust his own flesh and blood let alone a 7 foot freak of nature known and Dennis Rodman. Either hes working for feds somehow or Dictator and Rodman do have CRAZINESS in common. Will be interesting to see how this unfolds!!!! Geez and to think Carmen Electra slept with this man!!!! If he had a chance I am surely going to try and contact her because I know im in like flint!!!!!



Comments are closed.