North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (2nd L) and Dennis Rodman (R) watch a basketball game between former US NBA players and North Korean players. REUTERS/KCNA
Retired US basketball star Dennis Rodman says he had been
drinking when he suggested that an American jailed by North
Korea was himself to blame for landing in prison.
Rodman, who calls himself a friend of North Korean dictator
Kim Jong Un, caused a furore with his comments on an American
missionary imprisoned by Pyongyang. He is visiting North
Korea with fellow US basketball players.
In a statement issued by his public relations firm in the
United States, Rodman said:
"I want to apologise. I take full responsibility for my
actions. It had been a very stressful day. Some of my
teammates were leaving because of pressure from their
families and business associates. My dreams of basketball
diplomacy were quickly falling apart. I had been drinking.
It's not an excuse but by time the interview happened I was
upset. I was overwhelmed."
He added: "I embarrassed a lot of people. I'm very sorry. At
this point I should know better than to make political
statements. I'm truly sorry."
Rodman's current visit to North Korea, his fourth, has drawn
criticism from human rights activists and the family of
imprisoned US missionary Kenneth Bae after Rodman appeared to
suggest in an interview peppered with obscenities that Bae,
rather than the North Korean authorities, was responsible for
Bae's sister, Terri Chung, has said her family was outraged
by Rodman's comments and that he should use his access to the
North Korean leader to advocate on Bae's behalf, rather than
"hurl outrageous accusations".
"It is clear to me, however, that there is nothing diplomatic
about his trip," Chung said in a statement. "He is playing
games with my brother's life."
Bae, 45, was sentenced to 15 years hard labor for state
subversion in North Korea, where he was detained in 2012
while leading a tour group. The Supreme Court said he used
his tourism business to form groups aimed at overthrowing the
On Thursday, Rodman accompanied Kim on a trip to a luxury ski
A source with direct knowledge of Rodman's itinerary said the
52-year-old took a helicopter to a new multibillion-dollar
resort which is one of Kim's showcase projects and which has
been condemned as a waste of money in a country where most
people are malnourished.
The source declined to be identified due to the sensitivity
of the issue.
On Wednesday, Rodman led a chorus singing "Happy Birthday" to
the leader of the isolated and heavily sanctioned country at
a basketball match that Kim attended with his wife.
North Korean state media said the song was "reflecting
(Rodman's) reverence" for Kim Jong Un, and that he had
organised the game as a gift for his birthday, confirming for
the first time the leader's date of birth. He is believed to
The Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of North Korea's
ruling Workers' Party, dedicated its front page to coverage
of the basketball game and published photos of Kim sitting
and laughing with Rodman.
"Dennis Rodman said he was overjoyed and teared up when he
met the Dear Respected Marshal again," the newspaper said.
STARVED, BEATEN, ABUSED
The fading basketball star's trips had been financed by Irish
bookmaker Paddy Power, although it has now withdrawn its
It is not known whether Rodman has the capacity to fund
another trip. North Korea rarely pays for this kind of visit,
according to experts on the country.
Rodman has described Kim, who has been in power for just over
two years, as his friend.
Kim has presided over two long-range rocket launches - banned
under U.N. sanctions due to Pyongyang's nuclear weapons and
proliferation efforts - a nuclear test and last year
threatened to attack South Korea, Japan and the United
Last month, his uncle Jang Song Thaek was executed in one of
the biggest and most public purges undertaken in North Korea,
which has been ruled by the same family for three
Jang is just one of hundreds of thousands North Koreans who
have faced death or imprisonment in the North. An estimated
150,000-200,000 people are in political prisons and forced
labor camps, according to rights activists.
Defectors have testified to summary executions and rampant
human rights abuses on North Korea. They say they were
starved, beaten and abused in work camps where many die and
that babies born in the camps were killed.
While North Koreans suffer from food shortages and
malnutrition, according to U.N. assessments, Kim has pushed
ahead with big building projects such as the Masik Ski Resort
that Rodman visited.
South Korean officials estimate it cost hundreds of millions
of dollars to build and North Korea aims to make $43.75
million in annual profit from the resort, according to
documents prepared for potential foreign investors. It
expects up to 5,000 skiers to visit per day.