Former chef Ulrich Larsen shakes hands with Alejandro Cao de Benós, the 'gatekeeper to North Korea'. Photo: Piraya Films
“The Mole – Undercover in North Korea”, which broadcasts on Swedish, Danish, Norwegian and British TV this Sunday, uses footage shot with hidden cameras Ulrich Larsen brought to meetings in Europe and North Korea, to expose how North Koreans are desperately trying to obtain US dollars and oil for the regime through encouraging foreign investors to break international UN sanctions.
The film is directed by the Danish film maker Mads Brügger, who hired Jim Latrache-Qvortrup to represent an arms dealer called “Mr James”, who accompanied Larsen to meetings and then signed a contract on a visit to Pyongyang with a representative of a North Korean arms factory, with government officials present.
Larsen, who had had to give up work due to chronic inflammation of his pancreas, began working on the project out of boredom. He told Danish broadcaster DR that he approached Brügger after curiosity about the regime led him to join the Korean Friendship Association (KFA).
There he came into contact with Alejandro Cao de Benós, a Spanish nobleman who presents himself as “the Gatekeeper of North Korea”.
“I started with the project to make time go by when I was on sickness benefits,” he told DR. “But when I got started, I became curious. 'Is this possible?” “Is it real?” And I think sometimes it's healthy to sniff at something that seems exciting.”
In 2013, Cao De Benós contacted Larsen, telling him he had three interesting investment projects in North Korea if Larsen could find people with more than 50,000 euros to invest.
It was then that Brügger hired Latrache-Qvortrup, a former foreign legionnaire who had spent eight years in prison for dealing drugs to the rich and famous.
Latrache-Qvortrup then accompanied Larsen on trips to Uganda, Spain, Norway and North Korea to help expose the hermit state's influence operation.
Larsen said he had kept his double life secret from his family.
“My wife was never told at all that what I was doing could be dangerous. Not at all,” he said. “I can see that it's selfish, but if I had told her, I would probably have been told not to come home. At the same time, it was also a way to protect her. Because if she knew I was going out to meet with an arms dealer, she would have been sitting at home a total wreck.”
One of the most tense moments came when Cao De Benós brought a device that detects hidden cameras to a meeting.
Hugh Griffiths, co-ordinator of the UN Panel of Experts on North Korea between 2014 and 2019, told the BBC that he had found the film “highly credible”.
“This film is the most severe embarrassment to Chairman Kim Jong-un that we have ever seen,” said Griffiths. “Just because it appears amateurish does not mean the intention to sell and gain foreign currency revenue is not there. Elements of the film really do correspond with what we already know.”
Larsen told DR that now the film was being broadcast, he was worried that he might face repercussions.
“There is no doubt that some people are going to be pretty angry. I have pissed all over some of these people and lied incredibly. And it's easy to travel around the world, so if they now decide that I should learn a lesson. Or if the North Koreans could think of sending someone after me…”
But he said he hoped that would not happen.
“I then choose to believe that they are not so… what can I say… low-down practical. But it may be that they want to set an example and scare me, or do something worse. I do not know what will happen.”