LONDON • As North Korea grappled with a massive famine in the 1990s, scientists were working at an elite institute to find ways to boost then leader Kim Jong Il's longevity and his libido, a defector said on Friday.
In the early 1990s, scientists were sent to Denmark to find ways to improve the tenderness of North Korea's beef, which Kim thought was too tough, said biologist Kim Hyeongsoo who worked at the centre for six years.
He told a human rights conference in London that some 130 scientists selected from the best universities worked at the centre which was dedicated to promoting the health and longevity of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung and his son, who took power in 1994 and died in 2011.
Scientists were tasked with developing aphrodisiacs using ingredients including the genitalia of male lions and seals, as well as traditional medicinal herbs, Mr Kim said. They were also asked to replicate the leader's favourite western brand of cigarette - Rothmans - with tobacco imported from Africa.
The scientists were sworn to secrecy and could not even tell their families what they were working on. .
Mr Kim said the centre's work continued even as hundreds of thousands faced hunger in the mid-1990s. Around a million people are estimated to have died in the famine, which has been blamed on a combination of economic mismanagement, the loss of Soviet support and natural disasters.
Mr Kim eventually decided to escape after witnessing a particularly horrific execution in 2008. He was arrested and tortured by state security agents but managed to flee. He is now a teacher living in the South Korean capital Seoul.