The film — titled “The Mole,” which aired Sunday on the BBC and Nordic TV channels — is the work of Danish filmmaker Mads Brügger, who said he carried out a three-year sting operation that allegedly uncovered how the Hermit Kingdom flouts international law.
The cast includes Ulrich Larsen, an out-of-work chef with an obsession with dictators who plays the titular mole; Jim Latrache-Qvortrup, an ex-legionnaire and convicted cocaine dealer; and Alejandro Cao de Benós, a Spanish nobleman known as “the Gatekeeper of North Korea.”
With Brügger’s help, Larsen cooks up a plot to infiltrate the Korean Friendship Association in Spain, where he manages to climb the ranks of the secretive regime and apparently gain the trust of Pyongyang officials, according to the BBC.
Cao de Benós, the group’s president, is seen at times wearing North Korean military uniforms in the film, where he brags about his access to the upper echelons in Pyongyang.
Meanwhile, Latrache-Qvortrup plays the part of an international man of mystery and shady arms dealer in the comical film, whose plot is hard to believe.
“I am a filmmaker who craves sensation,” Brügger admits in the film, raising questions about its accuracy.
But one former United Nations official told the BBC that he found the documentary “highly credible.”
“This film is the most severe embarrassment to Chairman Kim Jong Un that we have ever seen,” Hugh Griffiths, who was the coordinator of the UN Panel of Experts on North Korea between 2014 and 2019, told the news outlet.
“Just because it appears amateurish does not mean the intent to sell and gain foreign currency revenue is not there. Elements of the film really do correspond with what we already know,” he added.
It is unprecedented to see officials in North Korea — which been under UN sanctions since 2006 because of its nuclear ambitions — openly discussing how to dodge the measures in order to export weapons.
In a key moment in “The Mole,” Larsen films as Latrache-Qvortrup — aka “Mr. James” — signs a contract with an official with a North Korean arms factory with various government officials present.
Latrache-Qvortrup later said he had to concoct a company name when grilled by one of the officials.
The signed document bears the signature of Kim Ryong-chol, president of the Narae Trading Organization.
A UN Panel of Experts report from Aug. 28 says that a company called Korea Narae Trading Corp. “is engaged in sanctions evasion-related activities for the purposes of generating revenue that supports the prohibited activities of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” the BBC reported.
Griffiths said it was telling that the North Koreans present were apparently willing to deal with a businessman about whom they knew nothing.
“It shows that UN sanctions are working. The North Koreans are clearly desperate to sell their weapons,” he said.
In another sequence in the documentary, Latrache-Qvortrup is asked by a North Korean arms dealer in Uganda whether he would be able to deliver weapons to Syria.
Larsen later visits the North Korean embassy in Stockholm, where a diplomat hands him an envelope of plans for the purchase of an island in Lake Victoria, Uganda, where Pyongyang purportedly planned to build a factory to manufacture arms and drugs.
None of the deals discussed in the documentary ever materialize — and the filmmakers said their evidence has been presented to the North Korean embassy in Stockholm, but that there has been no response.
On Monday, Sweden and Denmark said they would alert the UN and the European Union about the revelations in the documentary, according to CBS News.
The two countries’ foreign ministers said they were “deeply concerned by the contents of the documentary called The Mole, which concerns a number of activities related to the DPRK (North Korea).
“In response to these concerns, we have decided to task our missions to the UN with bringing the documentary to the attention of the UN Sanctions Committee. We will also raise the issue in the EU,” they said in a statement.