GENEVA (Reuters) - Switzerland has banned the sale to North Korea of equipment for a luxury ski resort planned for the ruling elite in the widely impoverished state that is under U.N. sanctions, officials said on Monday.
North Korean leader Kim Jung-un, who studied under an assumed name in the Swiss capital Berne and is believed to have gone on school ski trips in the Alps, wants to develop leisure activities for tourists and the upper crust among its 23 million citizens.
North Korea approached several Swiss companies, including Bartholet Maschinenbau AG, to provide chair lifts and cable cars worth 7 million Swiss francs ($7.57 million) for its sprawling Masik resort, the Geneva daily Le Temps reported on Monday.
But the Swiss government, contacted by the companies for clearance, added luxury sporting equipment to its list of goods banned under United Nations sanctions, Marie Avet of the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), said.
“The Federal Council decided on July 3 to also put infrastructure for sports facilities on the list, especially when they have a more luxury character for resorts,” Avet told Reuters. “These resorts have a luxury character, that is why it is not appropriate to export.”
The neutral country’s sanctions list for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) also includes equipment for golf, horseback riding, water sports, billiards and casinos, as well as luxury watches, jewelry, caviar, perfume and artworks.
Almost one-third of North Korean children are stunted due to malnutrition, the U.N.’s World Food Program says. The U.N. secretary-general has appealed for funding for food, health care and sanitation to millions of North Koreans.
Reclusive North Korea is under U.N. sanctions for its nuclear and missile weapons programs.
A North Korean diplomat in Geneva said on Monday that it was aware of the Swiss decision but had no other information.
Rival South Korea will hosting the Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang in 2018. North Korea said on Sunday it had accepted Seoul’s offer to hold working-level talks on resuming reunions of families separated by the Korean War.
North Korea’s envoy in Switzerland, So Se Pyong, told a rare news conference in Geneva on July 10 that economic development “to increase the people’s livelihood” is a priority for Pyongyang under Kim, who is about 30 years old.
“We built many, such as water parks, and (despite being in) the difficult position, we built water parks for people and rollercoasters for children,” So told reporters.
“We are now building a ski resort also for the tourist places in Wonsan area. So this is for the people,” he said.
Kim, who succeeded his late father in 2011, toured the country’s east coast in May in a 95-foot luxury yacht - something that could be banned under sanctions, according to a website that tracks North Korean events.
Sanctions aimed at crimping the lifestyle of the elite were first imposed in 2006 but until March the resolutions had never given examples of such goods, leaving it up to individual countries to decide what constituted a luxury product.
In 2009, Austrian and Italian authorities seized two luxury yachts that had been sold to North Korea.
Editing by Mark Heinrich