Reuters investigation: How Kim Jong Un’s regime is getting rich from the trade in wigs and false eyelashes

Reuters investigation: How Kim Jong Un’s regime is getting rich from the trade in wigs and false eyelashes
Reuters investigation: How Kim Jong Un’s regime is getting rich from the trade in wigs and false eyelashes
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Date of update: 02/03/2024 16:30
The date of publishing:

02/03/2024 16:11

Wigs and false eyelashes accounted for nearly 60 percent of North Korea’s declared exports to China last year. Photo source: Profimedia Images

The trade in false eyelashes and wigs brought millions of dollars to North Korea and contributed significantly to the recovery of exports. Reuters has uncovered how China is giving Kim Jong Un a loophole to avoid international sanctions.

False eyelashes and wigs made in North Korea are sold in beauty shops around the world under the “Made in China” label.

North Korean fake eyelash processing and packaging – carried out openly in neighboring China, the country’s biggest trading partner – gives Kim Jong Un’s regime a way to avoid international sanctions, giving it a vital source of foreign currency foreign

How North Korea’s False Eyelashes Get Sold as ‘Made in China’

Reuters spoke to 20 people – including 15 from the eyelash industry, as well as trade lawyers and experts on the North Korean economy – who described a system in which Chinese firms import semi-finished products from North Korea, which are then completed and packaged as “Made in China”.

The finished genes are then exported to markets in Japan and South Korea, according to eight people who work for companies directly involved in the trade.

Some of the people spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

North Korea has long been a major exporter of beauty products such as wigs and false eyelashes. But exports fell during the COVID-19 pandemic when North Korea closed its borders.

How much money has North Korea made from the trade in false eyelashes, wigs and beards?

Significant trade in genes produced in North Korea passing through China resumed in 2023, according to customs documents and four industry people.

Chinese customs data showed that North Korea’s exports to China doubled in 2023 when the borders reopened. China is the destination for almost all of North Korea’s declared exports.

Wigs and eyelashes accounted for nearly 60 percent of North Korea’s declared exports to China last year. In total, North Korea exported 1,680 tons of fake eyelashes, beards and wigs to China in 2023, worth about $167 million.

In 2019, when prices were lower, it exported 1,829 tons worth just $31.1 million.

What are the states that have imposed sanctions on North Korea saying?

The US State Department and international experts estimate that North Korea confiscates up to 90 percent of foreign earnings generated by its citizens, many of whom live in poverty. Reuters was unable to determine how much of the revenue from the gene sales went to Kim’s government or how it was used.

“We have to assume that … the millions of dollars every month that North Korea makes through this gene trade is being used for the Kim Jong Un regime,” said a Seoul-based lawyer, Shin Tong-chan. His opinion was corroborated by two other international trade experts, although neither provided evidence.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said Beijing and Pyongyang “are friendly neighbors” and that “normal cooperation between the two countries, which is legal and compliant, should not be out of the ordinary.”

Since 2006, the United Nations Security Council has tried to block Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program through nearly a dozen sanctions resolutions that restrict its ability to trade products such as coal, textiles and oil. It also imposed strict restrictions on North Koreans working abroad.

Sanctions adopted by the Security Council should be enforced by UN member states – all of which are legally bound to implement them – using local law. But there is no outright ban on hair products, so North Korea’s fake eyelash trade does not necessarily violate international law, three sanctions experts told Reuters.

Reuters presented its findings to China’s Foreign Ministry, which said it was “not aware of the circumstances” described but that any alleged violation of UN sanctions was “completely baseless”.

Japan’s foreign ministry did not comment on Reuters’ findings, but said Tokyo, which bans trade with Pyongyang, would continue to consider the “most effective approach” to North Korea.

The European Union’s diplomatic service did not provide comment on the sale of North Korean-made eyelashes in its jurisdiction.

Reuters could not determine whether any Western companies are currently involved in the North Korean gene trade.

Publisher: MI

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The article is in Romanian

Tags: Reuters investigation Kim Jong Uns regime rich trade wigs false eyelashes

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