N Koreans Charged with Sanction Busting05/29 06:35
The Justice Department has accused a network of North Korean and Chinese
citizens of secretly advancing North Korea's nuclear weapons program by
channeling at least $2.5 billion in illicit payments through hundreds of front
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Justice Department has accused a network of North
Korean and Chinese citizens of secretly advancing North Korea's nuclear weapons
program by channeling at least $2.5 billion in illicit payments through
hundreds of front companies.
The indictment, unsealed Thursday in Washington's federal court, is believed
to be the largest criminal enforcement action ever brought against North Korea.
The 33 defendants include executives of North Korea's state-owned Foreign
Trade Bank, which in 2013 was added to a Treasury Department list of sanctioned
institutions for transactions that facilitated the nuclear proliferation
network, and cut off from the U.S. financial system.
According to the indictment, the bank officials one of whom had served
in North Korea's primary intelligence bureau set up branches in countries
around the world, including Thailand, Russia and Kuwait, and used more than 250
front companies to process U.S. dollar payments to further the country's
nuclear proliferation program.
The defendants used a variety of tactics to cover their tracks, including
coded conversations; listing false destinations and customers on contracts and
invoices; and creating new front companies after the banks caught onto the
association with North Korea, the indictment says. Banks were routinely tricked
into processing transactions they wouldn't have ordinarily done, according to
Five of the defendants are Chinese citizens who operated covert branches in
either China or Libya. Others who were charged include individuals who served
at times as the bank's president or vice president.
"Through this indictment, the United States has signified its commitment to
hampering North Korea's ability to illegally access the U.S. financial system
and (to limiting) its ability to use proceeds from illicit actions to enhance
its illegal WMD and ballistic missile programs," acting U.S. Attorney Michael
Sherwin for the District of Columbia said in a statement.
The U.S. has frozen and seized about $63 million from the scheme since 2015,
according to the indictment.
The case was filed at a time of delicate relations between the U.S. and
North Korea. The rapprochement that President Donald Trump has tried to
engineer over the past two years has stalled badly, with the last face-to-face
meeting between senior officials from the two countries taking place in October
Apart from recent speculation over North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's health,
which prompted public expressions of concern from Trump, the administration has
been almost completely silent on North Korea. U.S. officials say they remain
eager to restart negotiations but have gotten no indication from the North that
any resumption is imminent.
The indictment also reflects ongoing concerns about sanctions violations
related to North Korea. Last month, for instance, United Nations experts
recommended blacklisting 14 vessels for violating sanctions against North
Korea, accusing the country in a report of increasing illegal coal exports and
imports of petroleum products and continuing with cyber attacks on financial
institutions and cryptocurrency exchanges to gain illicit revenue.
It was not immediately clear whether any of the defendants had lawyers.