Italy has blocked the nearly 13-million euro ($18-million) sale of two luxury yachts believed to have been bound for the impoverished nation of North Korea in violation of international sanctions, authorities said Thursday.
The 95-foot and 105-foot Italian-made seafaring vessels were ordered from the Azimut-Benetti maker of luxury yachts by an Austrian company, and a Chinese firm stepped in later to complete the purchase, the Economic Development Ministry said.
An investigation determined that the yachts ultimately were bound for the reclusive communist nation in violation of international sanctions barring sale of luxury goods to North Korea, the ministry said.
The impoverished nation relies on foreign aid to feed its 24 million people. At the same time, its leader Kim Jong Il, now said to be gravely ill, is known to own yachts, limousines and thoroughbred horses.
A person answering the phone at the North Korean Embassy in Rome said no one was available to comment.
The United Nations has placed trade, travel and other sanctions, including the sale of luxury items, on North Korea to pressure Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program.
Azimut, based outside of Turin in northern Italy, has not been accused of any wrongdoing, and the company said in a statement that it had been the victim of "contractual fraud."
"Behind an apparently normal operation, the buyers in reality were hiding an attempt to violate international embargo against North Korea, the real destination of the two vessels," Azimut said.