North Koreans charged for breaching nuclear sanctions
The US Department of Justice alleged that the mainly North Korean nationals siphoned money through several countries to evade US sanctions
The US Department of Justice revealed on Thursday that it had issued a criminal indictment order against 28 North Korean and five Chinese citizens for processing at least $2.5 billion in illegal payments to North Korea to avoid US sanctions.
The North Korean nationals in the list include employees of North Korea's Foreign Trade Bank and a former member of the country's intelligence bureau. Foreign Trade Bank was added to a sanctions list and blocked from the US financial system in 2013. If convicted, the individuals would have to forfeit all property or proceeds traced to the laundered amount.
The indictment, which was signed in February, said that the network of North Korean and Chinese nationals maintained "over 250 front companies" in countries like Kuwait, China, Russia, Thailand and Austria to process US dollar payments to North Korea. The Justice Department said that the money was used to buy goods for North Korea, evade US sanctions, enable North Korean entities to transact in US dollars, and to "enrich" themselves.
Funds siphoned to enrich North Korea's nuclear program?
The Justice Department alleged that the payments were also used to advance North Korea's nuclear weapons program. "Through this indictment, the US has signified its commitment to hampering North Korea's ability to use proceeds from illicit actions to enhance its illegal weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ballistic missile programs," said US prosecutor Michael Sherwin.
The US has increasingly sanctioned North Korea over its nuclear weapons program and forced other countries to enforce sanctions. In 2016, the US prohibited the export of financial services from the US or by any US citizen to North Korea without authorization, to curb North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.
The criminal indictment comes at a time when there are growing concerns about sanctions violations by North Korea. The United Nations has accused North Korea of extensive sanctions violations to develop its nuclear program and increase illegal exports.
North Korea recently claimed it was seeking to bolster its nascent nuclear capabilities. Last week, the country's state news agency, KCNA, reported that Kim Jong Un had set forth "new policies" to increase nuclear war deterrence to his military generals.