Dutch seize 90,000 bottles of vodka headed for North Korea

A Rotterdam customs officer presents a box containing bottles of vodka, Feb 26, 2019.
A Rotterdam customs officer presents a box containing bottles of vodka, Feb 26, 2019.PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Vodka bottles seized by the customs authorities in the port of Rotterdam.
Vodka bottles seized by the customs authorities in the port of Rotterdam.PHOTO: AFP

THE HAGUE (AFP) - Dutch customs agents at the port of Rotterdam seized 90,000 bottles of vodka believed to be headed for sanctions-hit North Korea, officials said.

The discovery of the Russian booze on a Chinese cargo ship was announced on the eve of a summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump in Hanoi.

Dutch newspaper AD said the vodka was believed to be for Kim and his army chiefs.

The Dutch customs agency retweeted the report but declined to confirm to AFP that Kim was the intended recipient.

"It's an incredible story - it's like something you read in a thriller," customs agency spokesman Roul Velleman told AFP.

The bottles of luxury spirit were found on Friday in 3,000 boxes in a container loaded in Hamburg on to the Nebula, a ship owned by China's Cosco.

"Sources indicated to us that a container was destined for North Korea. That was reason enough for us to act," Velleman said.

Searching the container proved difficult however because it was hidden beneath an aircraft fuselage which had to be lifted by crane.

"That wasn't easy," Velleman said.

The agents however then found what they were looking for.

"It was vodka destined for North Korea. We can't confirm it was destined for Kim Jong Un," Velleman said.

"We obey the foreign ministry and acted in conformity with the international sanctions against North Korea." The bottles were still on the harbourside in Rotterdam, he added.

"Either the bottles will be destroyed or they will be sold - it hasn't been decided yet."

Pyongyang remains under UN sanctions over its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

North Korea is demanding an easing of sanctions after it halted its nuclear and missile tests and to build trust with the United States as Kim prepares for a second summit with Trump.

The Dutch foreign ministry confirmed the seizure of the vodka.

"Customs said to us, 'We have reasons to believe that there is vodka on this ship'," foreign ministry spokesman Jeroen van Dommelen told AFP.

"Then the question comes to us, what do we do this time? It's up to our minister and she simply said, 'Well sorry, there are sanctions towards the regime that we just have to respect'."

Sigrid Kaag, the Dutch minister for foreign trade, told the AD newspaper that she ordered the confiscation of the vodka because "the import of luxury goods is also included" in UN sanctions.

"It is therefore entirely justified that the customs finally removed that container."