Thu, Feb 28, 2019 - Page 7 News List

Dutch intercepts vodka shipments to North Korea

AFP, THE HAGUE, Netherlands

A customs official shows off a container with 90,000 bottles of vodka after it was intercepted in Rotterdam, Netherlands, on Tuesday.

Photo: AFP

Dutch customs agents at the port of Rotterdam seized 90,000 bottles of vodka believed to be headed for sanctions-hit North Korea, officials said on Tuesday.

The discovery of the Russian booze on a Chinese cargo ship was announced on the eve of a summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Dutch newspaper AD said the vodka was believed to be for Kim and his army chiefs.

The Dutch customs agency retweeted the report, but declined to confirm that Kim was the intended recipient.

“It’s an incredible story — it’s like something you read in a thriller,” customs agency spokesman Roul Velleman said.

The bottles of luxury spirit were found on Friday last week in 3,000 boxes in a container loaded in Hamburg, Germany, on to the Nebula, a ship owned by China’s COSCO.

“Sources indicated to us that a container was destined for North Korea. That was reason enough for us to act,” Velleman said.

However, searching the container proved difficult because it was hidden beneath an aircraft fuselage which had to be lifted by crane.

“That wasn’t easy,” Velleman said.

The agents then found what they were looking for.

“It was vodka destined for North Korea. We can’t confirm it was destined for Kim Jong-un,” Velleman said. “We obey the foreign ministry and acted in conformity with the international sanctions against North Korea.”

The bottles were still on the harborside in Rotterdam, he added.

“Either the bottles will be destroyed or they will be sold — it hasn’t been decided yet,” he said.

Pyongyang remains under UN sanctions over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. North Korea is demanding an easing of sanctions after it halted its nuclear and missile tests, and to build trust with the US.

The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed the seizure of the vodka.

“Customs said to us: ‘We have reasons to believe that there is vodka on this ship,’” ministry spokesman Jeroen van Dommelen said.

“Then the question comes to us: ‘What do we do this time?’ It’s up to our minister and she simply said: ‘Well sorry, there are sanctions toward the regime that we just have to respect,’” Van Dommelen said.

Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Sigrid Kaag told AD that she ordered the confiscation of the vodka because “the import of luxury goods is also included” in UN sanctions.

“It is therefore entirely justified that customs finally removed that container,” Kaag said.

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