September 06, 2019 13:34
North Korean football player Han Kwang-song already has some fans here, but Juventus now find themselves under fire for violating UN sanctions by hiring him as a forward.
Han played for Cagliari in the Serie A and Perugia in the Serie B from 2016 to 2019, but at Juventus his salary is much higher, and it is unclear how much of it the North Korean regime pockets.
Voice of America reported Thursday that Han is technically a North Korean expatriate worker and his hiring by Juventus violates UN Security Council resolutions.
In September of 2017, the UNSC banned the renewal of work permits for North Koreans working abroad and ordered them to be repatriated by December. The international community believes North Korea uses the hard currency it extorts from its overseas workers to build weapons of mass destruction.
Pyongyang also extorts a portion of money its athletes earn abroad as "loyalty payments" which flow into Room 39, which manages the coffers of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
The Italian government did not respond to requests for comment from VOA. The Italian representative to the UN in a report in April said his country applied stricter standards in issuing and extending visas to five North Koreans but did not say whether Han is one of them.
SOFIFA, which provides stats on football players, estimates that Han earned around 9,000 euros a week at Perugia and that is estimated to have more than doubled since he moved to Juventus. Supposing he now makes 15,000 euros a week, his annual salary would total more than W1 billion (US$1=W1,202).
One North Korean defector who used to be an athlete in Pyongyang said, "When Hong Yong-jo was a member of Russia's premier league, his annual salary was split 50:50 with the North Korean regime, and his portion was lowered to 30 percent after UNSC sanctions kicked in." That means North Korea could be pocketing W700 million of Han's annual salary.
Han could be exempt from sanctions if Juventus can prove his salary is not being funneled to the regime. But even then the regime could benefit. The defector said, "If Han wires money to his family in the North and the regime extorts loyalty payments from them, there would be nothing anyone could do about it."
"Existing rules that only sanction the bank accounts of key North Korean officials and institutions are not enough to stem the influx of foreign currency into the North," the defector added.
He added that some North Korean athletes are signing backdoor contracts with foreign employers to keep more of their pay after the North began taking a bigger cut of their declared earnings three to four years ago.
Football data provider Transfermarkt stats show 14 North Korean athletes playing for premier and B-league teams overseas. That rises to 30-40 if lower-ranked clubs are included.
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