As the Dear Leader of an impoverished country, where most citizens are too poor even to afford a bicycle, Kim Jong-Il enjoyed the fruits of his dictatorship to the fullest until his death. Many of those fruits were Mercedes-Benz cars.
North Korea's late big boss and looking-at-things enthusiast, whose birth was said to have been foretold by a swallow (c'mon, the bird) and announced by a double rainbow, died this past weekend from a heart attack at the age of (approximately) 69.
During his nearly 18-year reign, Kim's fondness for Mercedes-Benz cars was reported widely. It's always been a bit dissonent that he was able to flaunt the country's treasure in such a fashion, considering UN sanctions have long banned the sale of luxury goods to the country. Of course, with North Korean citizens banned from using cellphones and the internet (as well as accessing non-state information of any kind) hardly anyone in his country would know it, even if the secret was out in the West.
Of course, sanctions never stopped the DL from glugging down a half-million bucks in cognac a year, along with truckloads of lobster and beluga caviar. Naturally, Kim had plenty of cash to spend on those and other goodies. According to reports, he's socked away upward of $4 billion in European Banks. One defector said Kim's personal expenses added up to 20% of the nation's budget — a nation with a per-capita GDP of just $1,900. That left him with plenty of resources to feed his Mercedes-Benz fetish.
According to reports, collected from various sources — including a former personal shopper and a Gulag survivor — and published extensively throughout Kim's reign, the leader amassed well over $20 million in Mercedes-Benz cars. What's worse? He reportedly bought a good portion of them from a cash pool of $80 million the country had received in humanitarian relief funds.
In the book, Escaping North Korea: Defiance and Hope in the World's Most Repressive Country, author Mike Kim recounts that particular episode in Kim's enduring Mercedes-Benz obsession:
[In 2001], while the UN was appealing for $600 million in emergency aid for the country, Kim spent "$20 million importing 200 of the latest and costliest… Mercedes, which he distributed as rewards to his followers after the test-firing of a new, long-range missile over Japan"
Back in 2009, Kim Jong-Il traded in his Maybach (that's right, he had a few of those too) for two Mercedes-Benz S600 Pullman Guard limousines. Each one of the nearly 21-foot, 11,685-pound monster Mercs, heavily armored and powered by a 5.5-liter, twin-turbocharged V12 producing 510 hp, reportedly cost $1.4 million when new. According to the The Korea Trade Association, the two cars, likely imported via China (they were spotted with Beijing license plates), were imported for $3.1 million — all told. The same cash could have bought 13,000 tons of corn to feed North Korea's starving citizenry.
Kim also treated Mercedes cars as party favors. In 2010, he reportedly gave 160 Benz sedans to high-ranking officials as gifts.
Where did Kim's Mercedes-Benz obsession come from? It was passed down from his dad, former North Korean leader, the late Kim II Sung, whose beloved Mercedes 500 SEL is displayed at Mansoosan Memorial Palace where Kim Il Sung's body lies in state. It was said that Sung admired German engineering, and once had a North Korean knockoff of the Mercedes-Benz 200 series built.
That begs an important question. Will Kim Jong-il's son — and North Korea's new leader — Kim Jong-un share his dad's Mercedes-Benz lust, or will he choose Lambos?