Koreans want a Merc as a perk

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The Independent Online
THEIR COUNTRY is on its knees, the people starving and industry ground to a halt but when it comes to luxury, North Korea's leaders don't spare any expense.

According to Hong Kong's South China Morning Post, the leadership in Pyongyang has asked a visiting Daimler-Benz official to arrange immediate delivery of 200 top-of-the-range S500 Mercedes limousines.

When told there was a waiting list for such models, the North Koreans are said to have offered a 5 per cent premium on the price - about $20m - to be sure of quick delivery.

A Mercedes-Benz China spokeswoman confirmed a company official had visited North Korea last month as part of an International Olympic Committee delegation led by Juan Antonio Samaranch.

She said the purpose was to present the North Koreans with a bus for their Olympic team, and could neither confirm nor deny whether the Daimler- Benz executive discussed other matters. She would say that the Hong Kong newspaper report had "regrettably been taken out of context".

North Korea's ruling Communist Party cadres are known to have a penchant for Mercedes-Benz cars, which are the vehicle of choice for the senior tier of government. Some have switched to up-market Japanese models, such as the Lexus.

The spokeswoman confirmed there are "a sizable number" of Mercedes-Benz cars in North Korea but could no give "specific information" on who owned them.

North Korea's new leader, Kim Jong-il, son of the late dictator Kim Il- sung, is said to be particularly fond of imported luxuries from the decadent capitalist west. His tastes also run to fine cognacs and designer clothes as well as cars.