• Kim Jong Un Is Rolling Around In Armored Mercedes-Benz Limos but They’re Not From Mercedes

Daimler issued a statement saying that it did not sell the North Korean regime any car and doesn’t know how its cars got them

LISTEN 11:03

Mercedes-Benz’s Guard series of armored vehicles has been the choice of many heads of state and other high-ranking state officials from around the world for many years. Currently, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier uses an S600 Guard as does India’s president, Ram Nath Kovind, but what’s surprising is that North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, as well as other members from his staff, also use S600 limos. Before anybody started pointing fingers at Mercedes-Benz, the German automaker announced it didn’t sell the cars to the regime in Pyongyang and, furthermore, doesn’t even know how the cars got there to begin with.

Remember those awkward scenes shot during the historic U.S.-North Korea summit held in Singapore in 2018? I’m talking about the images of a fleet of Kim’s bodyguards running next to his armored Mercedes-Benz as the dictator was leaving the place of the meeting. They perplexed many, but the purpose of the whole shebang was to showcase the status of Kim as well as his elite troops that protect him known as the Guard Command. But, what Mercedes-Benz found perplexing was something else: the fact that Kim used during that visit and that he also uses back home Mercedes-Benz S600 Guard models. His father, Kim Jong Il, was also seen at times aboard armored S Class models from the W140 generation but those were acquired in a different, more transparent manner as Mercedes-Benz was open to shaking hands with North Korea back then.

How did the armored Mercs reach North Korea?

When North Korean leader Kim Jong Il arrived in Vladivostok, Russia, to kick-off his Russian summit, two Mercedes-Benz limousines, a Mercedes Maybach S600 Pullman Guard and a Mercedes Maybach S62, were waiting for him outside the train station.

That wouldn't be strange until you find out that manufacturers of luxury goods of any kind can't sell stuff to North Korea as part of the plethora of sanctions applied to the Asian state.

"We have absolutely no idea how those vehicles were delivered to North Korea," Mercedes-Benz spokeswoman Silke Mockert said in response to an Associated Press report quoted by the New York Times. "For Daimler, the correct export of products in conformance with the law is a fundamental principle of responsible entrepreneurial activity." What is more, Mockert said, on behalf of the German giant, that "our company has had no business connections with North Korea for far more than 15 years now and strictly complies with E.U. and U.S. embargoes."

The spokeswoman also said that the company makes sure to keep a strict eye on what cars are exported where but underlines that Mercedes-Benz can in no way shape or form control, nor is it the manufacturer’s responsibility to do so, the way its cars are sold and re-sold by third-party sellers that aren’t part of the official and authorized network of dealers around the world.

In other words, Mercedes tries to escape scrutiny by saying that it can do nothing if one or more of its cars somehow make their way into the lot of a used car salesman that then proceeds to do business with the North Korean state. Then again, I wonder, how many S600 Guard and S62 Pullman limousines are out there, to begin with?

They're both really expensive and, regardless of the increase of the number of rich people in the world, I can't imagine there being more than a few hundred armored S Class examples in the world right now.

What I’m trying to say is that Mercedes-Benz knows what official dealers received such cars and an investigation can begin from there, and this would be a much more transparent thing to do than just say that "sales of vehicles by third parties, especially of used vehicles, are beyond our control and responsibility.”

In fact, news arrived back in March of 2019 that the United Nation’s sanctions monitors claim that numerous countries are involved in supplying North Korea with goods, effectively ignoring the numerous bans applied by the U.N. According to France24, the regime is investigated for also using a number of Lexus LX570 SUVs and even Rolls-Royce full-size luxury sedans. "The North Koreans procure what they want. They get the best when they need it," said Hugh Griffiths quoted by France 24. Griffith has been, "for the past five years, the coordinator of the U.N. panel of experts investigating sanctions-busting by North Korea."

The ban on luxury goods of any kind has been in effect for the better part of six years already, but it doesn’t seem to stop Kim Jong Il and his entourage from gaining access to anything from yachts to these luxury limousines. Not to mention some lavish estates in North Korea, a country which is also unable to export much oil, coal, and other products due to its military program and the threats that it can pose to both neighboring nations and the rest of the world.

"Violating sanctions is bad behavior, and such obvious violations at international events aren’t helpful, in my view, for enforcing of sanctions," Griffiths said. "You don’t want to make a mockery of the sanctions," he added.

In the same article, it is said that the United Nations’ investigation has revealed that the Mercedes-Benz vehicles were sent on a ferry from California all the way to Hong Kong, China. From there, they got in the hands of the North Korean regime, all under the apparent supervision of George Ma, a Chinese businessman and the owner of Seajet, a company with ties to the national airline in North Korea. Griffiths also pointed out that, while Kim is able to procure goods below the radar of the international entities that are following every step of the country he’s the leader of, it comes at a great expense. And it comes mainly through North Korea’s fleet of commercial ships which "have been renamed, placed under foreign flags, and disguised to avoid detection of illegal cargo," according to France24.

"It’s crazy what is happening in international waters now. It’s essentially anarchy," said Griffiths, who acknowledges that North Korea is also still able to sell coal and fuel despite all the bans and all the harsh discourses of various world leaders. The Guardian details that the 66-page report released by the U.N. following its investigation says that both Toyota and Rolls-Royce are also adamant that they didn’t sell the cars directly to Kim’s regime and that they must’ve gotten there via backchanneling.

Why Mercedes-Benz?

2017 Mercedes-Maybach G 650 Landaulet
- image 724259

If you dial the clock back 40 years, you’ll find that many of the world’s dictators, could be seen using Mercedes-Benz 600 Pullman limos as state vehicles, some even opting for the flamboyant Landaulet version which features a soft top above the rear passenger area that can retract so that the people in the back can enjoy a refreshingly windy experience. Or, in the case of dictators, so that they can get up and salute the roaring crowds as the limo drives by. All of the Maybachs built during the short-lived resurgence of the German brand, before it became simply the name of the ultra-luxurious trim level on certain Mercedes models, featured a Landaulet version. Nowadays, you can still buy a Mercedes-Maybach G 650 with a Landau top.

To put it into perspective, the likes of Saddam Hussein, Mobutu Sese Seko, the dictator who led the Democratic Republic of Congo for over 30 years, Leonid Brezhnev, Kim Jong Il, Kim Il Sung, Robert Mugabe, Mao Zedong, Idi Amin, Josip Borz Tito, Jean-Bédel Bokassa, the leader of the Central African Republic throughout the late '60s, and '70s, and even Pablo Escobar all owned or at least used Mercedes Benz 600 Pullman models, be it with a landau top, or in SWB or LWB guise.

That’s not to say other figures that weren’t so hell-bent on ruling a nation with an iron fist (or running a gigantic cartel in Escobar’s case) didn’t own a 600 Pullman - John Lennon had one, as did Aristotle Onassis, Jack Nicholson, or Pete Townshend of The Who - but, over time, the model has become synonymous with dictators or otherwise malevolent heads of state.

2016 Mercedes-Maybach S-Class High Resolution Exterior
- image 578393

The tradition was somewhat continued with the W140 S Class, Kim Jong Il using one for years to the extent that it’s now parked in his mausoleum. The North Koreans have, since, moved on to more modern Mercedes-Benz machinery although both the fixed-head 600 Pullman and a different one with a Landau top were seen during the 65th-anniversary parade in Pyongyang held in 2010. You can say, then, that being seen in Mercs is a bit of a family tradition for the Kims and, as they say, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, ignoring Kim Jong Il’s Rolls-Royce-badged escapade.

But it’s not just a tradition since the Mercedes-Benz Guard models are, arguably, the safest armored vehicles in the world if we are to discount the purpose-built limousines that carry Russian President Vladimir Putin or U.S. President Donald Trump.

2016 Mercedes-Maybach S600 Guard High Resolution Exterior
- image 666726

The standard Mercedes-Maybach S600 Guard is a 207.4-inch long behemoth, almost a full inch longer than the Audi A8 L Security. From the outside, though, it looks like any other Mercedes-Maybach S600 LWB but, underneath, there is extra steel sandwiched between the chassis and the body through a clever "overlapping" used at the car’s joints. Aramid and PE components were also used in the building process of the S600 Guard which became, in 2016, the first production car to be certified as VR10 compliant by the Ballistics Authority in Germany.

To receive this accolade, a car must withstand multiple hits from hardened steel core rounds fired by an assault rifle. Also, it can survive the blast of 33 pounds of TNT.

The downside to all this is that all windows are fixed as they are coated with polycarbonate on the inside to prevent glass splintering in the off-beat scenario that the bulletproof layers do fail. Inside, the S600 Guard looks again almost the same as any other S600 although the ministerial seats in the back with endless massaging options are pushed further back in the cabin for added privacy. Mercedes-Benz states in the presentation for the S600 Guard that inside you can be "fully in touch with the rest of the world while enjoying the luxury and comfort" of this $517,822 car. In comparison, an armorless Mercedes-Maybach S600 starts at just $189,350, but the engine under the hood is the same: the soon-to-be-discontinued 6.0-liter, twin-turbocharged, V-12 producing 523 horsepower and 612 pound-feet of torque.

2017 Mercedes-Maybach S 600 Pullman Guard High Resolution Exterior
- image 689072

Mercedes also offers an armored Pullman version that’s 42 inches longer than the S600 and which costs $1,561,462. As it weighs some 11,000 pounds, the top speed is limited to just under 100 mph or about 40-50 mph below the top speed of the shorter S600 Guard. Kim Jong Il was seen in both a stretched Pullman version of the S600 and a normal one in the past 12 months or so which means the regime in Pyongyang is readily available when it forks out over $1.5 million for ONE car while half of North Korea’s 24 million inhabitants live in harsh poverty. Let that sink in for a moment.

Further reading

2017 Mercedes-Maybach S 600 Pullman Guard High Resolution Exterior
- image 689073

Read our full review on the 2017 Mercedes-Maybach S 600 Pullman Guard.

2016 Mercedes-Maybach S600 Guard High Resolution Exterior
- image 666724

Read our full review on the 2016 Mercedes-Maybach S600 Guard.

2016 Mercedes-Maybach S-Class High Resolution Exterior
- image 599556
Mercedes-Benz has finally revealed the European pricing for the new Mercedes-Maybach S-Class.

Read our full review on the 2016 Mercedes-Maybach S Class

Source: Time Magazine

Michael Fira
Michael Fira
Associate Editor and Motorsport Expert - fira@topspeed.com
Mihai Fira started out writing about long-distance racing like the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans. As the years went by, his area of interest grew wider and wider and he ever branched beyond the usual confines of an automotive writer. However, his heart is still close to anything car-related and he's most at home retelling the story of some long-since-forgotten moment from the history of auto racing. He'll also take time to explain why the cars of the '60s and '70s are more fascinating than anything on the road today.  Read full bio
About the author
What do you think?
Show Comments
Car Finder: