The United States Justice Department indicted over two dozen North Koreans and five Chinese individuals on charges of laundering over $2.5 billion in illegal payments towards Pyongyang’s nuclear program, the Washington Post reported Thursday.
According to the 50-page indictment, it is alleged that the individuals worked as agents for North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank (FTB), a sanctioned entity that holds the majority of the regime’s foreign currency reserves. In what is the largest North Korean sanctions violations case brought by the U.S., agents are accused of creating over 250 front companies and covert bank branches around the world to funnel through payments passing through the American financial system.
The companies — set up in countries including Kuwait, Thailand, and Austria — were used “to procure commodities and facilitate payments in U.S. dollars on behalf of parties in North Korea,” according to court documents. Other involved organizations included several Chinese banks as well as telecommunications giants Huawei Technologies Co. and ZTE Corp, underlining Beijing’s continued commitment to protecting its communist ally from international sanctions.
Individuals charged in the documents include two former FTB presidents, Ko Chol Man and Kim Song Ui; two former co-vice presidents, Han Ung and Ri Jong Nam; and Han Ki Song, who allegedly oversaw the FTB’s covert branch operation in Thailand and worked for North Korea’s primary intelligence agency.
“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 these illicit actions to enhance its illegal weapons of mass destruction program,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Michael R. Sherwin.
Sanctions against North Korea have formed an integral part of the Trump administration’s approach to bringing about an end to the country’s illegal nuclear weapons program. Although the campaign has deprived the communist regime of billions of dollars, sanctions violations have allowed it to continue expanding its nuclear capacity, a reality born out by their ongoing testing and development of new weapons and technology.
The move also comes as peace negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea continue to flounder, with the regime repeatedly breaking their commitment to end weapons testing as Washington refuses to lift sanctions until Pyongyang can demonstrate it is taking effective steps to prevent a nuclear escalation.
A report last year by a panel of U.N. experts detailed how member states how failed to expel North Korean bank officials involved in facilitating sanctions evasions through the global financial system.
“Ongoing deficiencies in the implementation by member states of financial sanctions, combined with the deceptive practices of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, enabled the country to continue to access the international financial system,” stated the report, published last August.