European Intelligence Sources: North Korea Illegally Shipped Coal to Russia

A mound of unsold North Korean coal at Rajin harbour in the Rason Special Economic Zone
AFP Ed JONES

A Reuters exclusive on Thursday quoted three sources inside Western European intelligence agencies who said North Korea shipped coal to Russia in 2017 in a probable violation of U.N. sanctions.

Reuters reports that after coal exports from North Korea were banned by the U.N. Security Council on August 5, “the secretive Communist state has at least three times since then shipped coal to the Russian ports of Nakhodka and Kholmsk, where it was unloaded at docks and reloaded onto ships that took it to South Korea or Japan.”

Reuters’ sources provided exact details of how the shipments were made, including the departure and docking dates for specific vessels.

The allegations were supported by sources in a Western shipping company and the U.S. national security apparatus, both of whom said North Korean coal was—and is—flowing through Russian ports. One of the European intel sources described Nakhodka as a “transhipping hub for North Korean coal.”

When Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was confronted with the Reuters report, he insisted that Russia is a “responsible member of the international community.” A Russian embassy official insisted his country does not buy coal from North Korea or facilitate shipments to third-party buyers.

Reuters writes that it could not independently verify that North Korean coal has been shipped through Russia as described by its sources, or if so, whether the owners of the ships involved knew they were transporting banned goods. However, it notes that one of the ships allegedly involved in the illicit coal trade was cited for delivering North Korean coal to Kholmsk in the latest round of U.S. Treasury Department sanctions announced on Wednesday.

Legal experts consulted by Reuters said a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions seems to have occurred and could trigger further sanctions by the United States, which has complained Russia is not doing enough to apply pressure against North Korea.

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