GENEVA, Switzerland, Feb. 25 (UPI) — A North Korean defector who escaped a life of forced labor at a construction site in Kuwait said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has spent $640 million on luxury goods, villas and fine cuisine in recent years.
Speaking at the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy on Tuesday, Lim Il, 47, said the North Korean leadership sends tens of thousands of slave laborers to construction sites in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Lim has said North Korea’s system of slave labor earns the regime more than $1.8 billion annually, according to South Korean Herald Business. Another significant portion of that revenue goes to maintaining “luxury villas” for elites that cost an annual $300 million in maintenance alone, Lim told the gathering in Geneva.
Lim said he left North Korea in 1996 for Kuwait at the height of the North Korean famine, lured by the promise of three meals a day, an unimaginable luxury for him at the time.
But Lim said he was never paid for 12 hours of daily manual labor at hot construction sites in Kuwait, while other foreign workers at the site not only were compensated but also given a three-hour lunch break. Lim and other North Koreans were allowed only an hour for lunch.
His North Korean supervisors lied, he said, when they told him he and other North Koreans could not be paid because the North Korean firm’s financial situation was “not great.”
Lim said he estimates the North Korean government pocketed $200 million during his tenure at the construction site.
Lim defected to the South Korean Embassy in Kuwait in 1997.
Another defector, 21-year-old Park Yeon-mi, said in a separate statement at the summit that North Korea has changed with the rise of black markets across the country, reported South Korean news agency Yonhap.
These economic changes, Park said, pose threats to the North Korean dictatorship, because North Korea’s young generation have access to media of the outside world.