PotCoin, Montreal, Canada-based digital currency created for cannabis dispensaries and customers, paid for former NBA star Dennis Rodman and his entourage to go to North Korea to visit dictator Kim Jong-un, according to a statement by Rodman and PotCoin.
Shawn Perez, a spokesman for PotCoin, says that Rodman's people reached out to PotCoin to see if it would be interested in sponsoring Rodman's fifth trip to North Korea. Kim Jong-un, the country's leader, recently threatened to nuke the U.S.
"Once we got a better understanding of what Rodman wanted to achieve, we took it to the PotCoin community and we all decided to sponsor the trip," says Perez. "Rodman told us he wants to promote peace and love across the world and that's our mission, too."
Perez says hundreds of PotCoin community members chipped in to pay for Rodman's trip, but he wouldn't reveal how much it cost. Perez says PotCoin is managed and run by the community and the digital currency platform, like Bitcoin, is not controlled by a centralized company.
Rodman has kept the purpose of his trip vague and a spokeswoman for Rodman says he will share more details when he returns.
"I'm really looking forward to spending time with the wonderful people of North Korea and of course, visiting with the Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un," Rodman said in a press release on PotCoin's site. "I want to thank the folks at PotCoin. They realized the importance of this trip and made it all possible for me."
Perez says Rodman's trip is bigger and more consequential than a simple visit to his old friend Kim Jong-un.
As Rodman was arriving in Pyongyang, North Korean officials released Otto Warmbier, an American college student who has been held prisoner in North Korea for the last 15 months, according to the New York Times. Warmbier, who was arrested and sentenced to 15 years in a labor camp for allegedly trying to steal a propaganda poster while visiting the country last year, is in a coma. He was medically evacuated from North Korea on Tuesday and brought back to the U.S., the Times reports. His release followed "secret negotiations between American officials and the government in Pyongyang," according to that same report.
Yet, Perez says that Rodman helped with Warmbier's release.
"I, personally, do not believe in coincidences," says Perez. "The fact is that when Dennis Rodman arrived in North Korea, an American [Warmbier] was released. If Kim Jong-un wanted to release [Warmbier] earlier he could've done so. But the influence Rodman brings, as you can see, brings one prisoner home. I'm not saying this was Rodman's purpose for the trip, but it is what happened."
U.S. government officials deny claims that Rodman played a role. "Dennis Rodman did not have anything to do with the release of Otto Warmbier," Heather Nauert, a State Department spokeswoman, told the Times on Tuesday.
According to reports, the release negotiations started last month after North Korean officials asked for an emergency meeting with North Korean officials in New York, the Times reports.
There is also speculation that President Trump gave Rodman a message for Kim Jong-un. Trump praised Rodman's visits to North Korea back in 2013 and Rodman was on Donald Trump's TV show "Celebrity Apprentice" in 2009 and 2013.
"Well, I'm pretty sure he's pretty much happy with the fact that I'm over here trying to accomplish something that we both need," Rodman tells the Associated Press.
Thomas Shannon Jr., the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, tells the Times that Rodman is not on a mission for the U.S. government.
When asked if he thinks it's a positive thing for PotCoin to be associated with Rodman's trip to visit with the controversial leader, Perez says PotCoin sponsored Rodman's travel to promote "peace and love" and help "spread awareness about the opioid epidemic" and how medical marijuana provides a "safer alternative." Perez says they're staying out of "politics" and believe it's a good opportunity for PotCoin.
Perez says Kim Jong-un might be a dictator, but he believes sponsoring Rodman's trip can help to start peace talks between North Korea and the U.S.
"Things are happening because of this trip," says Perez. "Dennis Rodman is a great friend of Kim Jong-un and a great friend with Donald Trump. You never know--maybe Rodman could bring peace and open up channels of communication and not war [between the U.S. and North Korea]."