Mon, Oct 16, 2006 - Page 5 News List

`Dear leader' might not feel brunt of sanctions


He's known for swigging cognac and owning thousands of bottles of vintage French wine. His private train is reportedly stocked with live lobsters served with silver chopsticks. He allegedly flew in an Italian chef to make him pizzas.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il loves his fancy food. But will he have to start eating more kimchi and less caviar if a UN resolution passes banning the sale of luxury goods to North Korea?

Some experts doubt the UN measure -- designed to punish the North for allegedly testing a nuclear device -- will force Kim to go on a diet. They say the North's shadowy network of trading companies around the world will find ways to skirt the ban and deliver sushi and shark fin to Kim, whose paunch stands out as much as his frizzy bouffant hairdo.

"The North changes the names of the companies all the time. It's almost impossible to keep track of them," said Bertil Lintner, author of the book Great Leader, Dear Leader: Demystifying North Korea Under the Kim Clan.

Kim's foodie ways are legendary but largely unconfirmed. Most of the tales come from defectors, foreign officials, journalists and chefs who got a rare peek inside the reclusive leader's bizarre world.

One of the most interesting accounts of Kim's lavish lifestyle came from Konstantin Pulikovsky, a former Russian presidential envoy who wrote a book, The Orient Express, about Kim's train trip through Russia in July and August 2001.

Pulikovsky, who accompanied the North Korean leader, said Kim's 16-car private train was stocked with crates of French wine. Live lobsters were delivered in advance to stations, and gourmet feasts were eaten with silver chopsticks, he said.

While stopping in the Siberian city of Omsk, Kim sent back a plate of pickles because they were "shoddily marinated cucumbers from Bulgaria, not prepared in the authentic Russian style," Pulikovsky wrote.

Bradley Martin's book Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader included an account by Kenji Fujimoto, who claimed to be Kim's personal sushi chef. The Japanese man said Kim had a 10,000-bottle wine cellar and ate shark's fin soup weekly, the book reported.

"His banquets often started at midnight and lasted until morning. The longest lasted for four days," the chef was quoted as saying.

Fujimoto, who claimed to work for Kim for more than a decade, has also said that he was sent abroad on shopping missions to buy Czech beer, Thai papayas, caviar from Iran, Chinese melons, fish from Japan and Danish pork.

Michael Breen, author of the biography Kim Jong-il: North Korea's Dear Leader, was also skeptical that the proposed UN ban on luxury goods would be effective because the trade in the goods would be difficult to track.

He said the measure is designed to hit the nation's leadership, who some believe have been unaffected by the country's famine conditions.

"The super elite is impervious to what's happening," he said.

Approximately 2 million people are believed to have starved to death in North Korea in the 1990s because of bad harvests and decades of economic bungling. As Kim tucked into gourmet meals, his people survived by eating tree bark, weeds and roots.

Breen said his favorite accounts about Kim's lifestyle include the Italian chefs who were recruited to make pizzas and train North Korean cooks in one of Kim's palaces.

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