SEOUL, Oct. 14 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's imports of luxury goods have surged after Kim Jong-un took power, despite chronic food shortages plaguing the country, a South Korean lawmaker said Monday.
According to Rep. Yoon Sang-hyun of the ruling Saenuri Party, imports of luxury goods reached US$645.8 million last year, up sharply from an annual import average of around $300 million tallied under the current leader's father Kim Jong-il.
The incumbent leader took power after the sudden death of his father in late 2011.
Citing data provided by the government ahead of the parliamentary audit on the Ministry of Unification, the lawmaker said the isolationist country imported such non-essential goods as pets, feed for such animals, and various European and U.S.-made bath, sauna and maternity products.
The report also showed a noticeable rise in imports of expensive musical instruments, cosmetic goods, handbags, leather products, watches, and mid-sized sedans made in Japan and China.
"The products were given as gifts to key figures in North Korean society to ensure their loyalty to the regime," Yoon said. He claimed that handing out such gifts contrasted with the hardships felt by ordinary people.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization said earlier in the month that North Korea remains one of the 34 countries in the world that require external assistance to properly feed their people.
It estimated that some 2.8 million "vulnerable" people in the communist country needed outside assistance at least until this year's fall harvest.
The Saenuri lawmaker said that imports of wine, liquor, consumer electronics, fur products and expensive watches led the growth last year.
Imports of alcoholic beverages surpassed the $30 million mark, with electronics and watches reaching $37 million and $8.2 million, respectively, for the whole of last year, he said.
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