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North Korea’s national airline resumes flights to gambling hub Macau


North Korea’s national airline resumes flights to gambling hub Macau

north korea macau
Photo: Fedor Leukhin

North Korea’s state airline Air Koryo will resume direct flights from Pyongyang to the gambling hub of Macau today after a 15-year hiatus.

Macau is the airline’s fourth international destination and the third in China, behind Beijing and Shenyang. The airline also flies to Vladivostok in Russia.

Flights will connect the world’s most popular gambling destination to one of the world’s poorest countries. The new route is meant to serve a growing number of wealthy North Korean elites who have thrived under Kim Jong Un.

Improved links with Macau raises concerns that North Korea could use casinos to evade international sanctions, which were tightened in 2017 following repeated missile and nuclear tests. Pyongyang previously used Macau as a hub for its overseas illicit activity abroad—most famously in 2006, when the US accused the Kim Jong Il regime of using the Macau-based Banco Delta Asia to launder millions of dollars and help traffic counterfeit bills.

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Washington sanctioned Banco Delta Asia and froze more than $20 million in North Korean assets in 2006, which is widely believed to have contributed to the collapse of nuclear talks at the time. While it’s currently unclear how many aircraft will travel between the two cities, the detection of an increase in illicit activity will play a key role in upcoming nuclear talks between the US and North Korea.

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