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North Korea's one percent lead lives of unimaginable luxury, says expert

Economist said social inequality is beyond comparison to pre-unification East Germany or even to present-day China.

By Elizabeth Shim
North Korea's one percent lead lives of unimaginable luxury, says expert
North Korean equestrians in Pyongyang in 2013. North Korean elites lead lives unimaginable to 95 percent of the North Korean population. Photo by KCNA/YOnhap

BERLIN, April 8 (UPI) -- The number of North Koreans considered elites has increased to one million under North Korean leader Kim Jong Un – who took control after the death of his father Kim Jong Il.

Park Sung-jo, an economist at Free University Berlin in Germany, told Radio Free Asia North Korean Workers' Party executives, military officials and heads of state-owned enterprises live in luxury unimaginable to 95 percent of the North Korean population.

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The lifestyle of roughly 200,000 to 300,000 elites, Park said, rivals those of well-heeled residents of Manhattan or the residents of Little Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

Their average net worth is $50,000 and they typically own Samsung televisions and household pets imported from China.

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Elites also have access to lavish dining options in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. The restaurants in question charge $70 for Korean barbecue, $8 for Korean bibimbap, or rice mixed with meat and vegetables, though prices cited were for foreign tourists and not locals, reported South Korea's Kyunghyang Sinmun.

Luxury vehicles are highly coveted within this population, according to Park.

He estimates there are currently 5,000 BMWs, 1,500 used Nissans parked around the areas where the elites lead their enviable lifestyles.

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Park and other experts have said the resulting economic and social inequality is beyond comparison to pre-unification East Germany or even to contemporary China.

Jung Eun-yi, a researcher at Kyungsang National University in South Korea said luxury apartments valued at $200,000 have begun to emerge in Pyongyang, according to South Korean newspaper Hankyoreh.

Choson Sinbo, a pro-Pyongyang newspaper based in Japan, has reported in the past young North Korean elites enjoy leisurely coffee drinking, with Americano and espresso drinks cited as popular choices.

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