Controls in Pop Culture

Export Compliance Antagonist Dennis Rodman May Lose His BFF to a Pro Wrestler

Earlier this year former NBA player Dennis Rodman was the subject of an investigation by the U.S. State and Treasury Departments concerning his appearance at North Korean autocrat Kim Jong-Un’s birthday party.

No, he didn’t go to Asia to distribute the secret blueprints of any American companies (which would have been an egregious deemed export violation). But he did share items of which the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) did not approve. There was no restricted party screening, ECCN classification, or embargoed country checks. Nothing at all.

If the allegation that Rodman gave the infamous North Korean leader a slew of unlicensed luxury gifts is true, he was in direct violation of the 2010 International Emergency Economic Powers Act. As if that weren’t enough, the basketball star may have also committed an anti-bribery offense under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). Apparently bringing bottles of your own celebrity vodka brand into a foreign country is a no-no if your intent is to make money off said vodka (and while we don’t know if this was Rodman’s plan, transporting the liquor into North Korea was a poor decision nonetheless).

The birthday bash was not Rodman’s first foray into North Korea nor was it his first time raising eyebrows at the BIS. His much-hyped visits were described (by Rodman himself) as a way to improve relations with the mysterious nation. Some (one or two) hearts were warmed by the friendship between the American celebrity and the North Korean despot. But sadly, that awe-inspiring relationship could be a thing of the past.  Kim Jong-Un is welcoming a new friend to his nation this summer and he’s another household name – in Japan.

Japanese pro-wrestling legend (turned Member of Parliament) Kanji Inoki will be wowing North Korean audiences with a “martial arts extravaganza ”featuring 20 wrestlers and martial artists.  Like Dennis Rodman, Inoki is seemingly unconcerned about what anyone else thinks about his choice of venue. After all, during the Gulf War he put on a similar show in Iraq. It is unlikely the Japanese government will protest Inoki’s trip, though. Last week Tokyo announced it was lifting some of its export sanctions against North Korea. Though sanctions over North Korea’s nuclear program will remain in place, there will still be more permissible contact between the two nations.

Inoki, a sprightly 71-year-old, told reporters he is “looking forward to meeting with senior North Korean officials.” What they will talk about is anybody’s guess. But one wonders when Inoki will begin referring to Kim Jong-Un as his “best friend for life” as Dennis Rodman so famously gushed not long ago. And if he does announce that Jon-Un is his new BFF, where will that leave Rodman? Is there room in a busy dictator’s life for two famously athletic and charismatic besties? Only time will tell.  In the meantime we’ll be watching and waiting to see who’ll be next to step up and entertain in this most unlikely of places.