ROK-U.S. News

U.S. brings massive N. Korean sanctions case, targeting state-owned bank and former government officials

Visitors watch a photo showing North Korea's missile launch at the Unification Observation Post in Paju, South Korea, in 2019.
Visitors watch a photo showing North Korea’s missile launch at the Unification Observation Post in Paju, South Korea, in 2019. (Ahn Young-Joon/AP)

The U.S. government has charged 28 North Korean and five Chinese individuals with facilitating more than $2.5 billion in illegal payments for Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and missile program in what court papers describe as a clandestine global network operating from countries including China, Russia, Libya and Thailand.

In a 50-page federal indictment unsealed Thursday in Washington, D.C., the Justice Department accused the individuals of acting as agents of North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank in what officials say is the largest North Korean sanctions violations case charged by the U.S.

Working for the FTB — which is North Korea’s primary foreign currency bank and under sanctions for facilitating nuclear proliferation — the agents allegedly set up more than 250 front companies and covert bank branches around the world to mask payments transiting the U.S. financial system, including through several Chinese banks and for equipment from Chinese telecommunications giants Huawei Technologies Co. and ZTE Corp., charging documents said.

Those charged 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 operated FTB’s covert branch in Thailand and served in 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,” Michael R. Sherwin, acting U.S. Attorney for D.C., said in a statement.

The massive enforcement action comes as United Nations experts have detailed North Korea’s widespread evasion of sanctions by using agents of state-owned and other banks overseas to facilitate a global web of illicit oil, arms and coal deals to bring in foreign currency. The efforts have been augmented through offshore, ship-to-ship transfers, large-scale cryptocurrency hacks and ransomware attacks.

The Justice Department moves highlight Washington’s stalled diplomatic effort to eliminate Pyongyang’s nuclear missile and weapons capabilities, analysts said. The actions also reflect an internal U.S. election-year debate over whether President Trump’s withholding of tougher sanctions and emphasis on personal diplomacy with Kim Jong Un can succeed if existing American pressure tactics are not effectively enforced, analysts said.

The Trump administration had outpaced predecessors at building a global coalition to pressure Pyongyang before talks started. But the biggest hole in sanctions enforcement remains U.S. reluctance to penalize major Chinese banks through which North Korea’s illicit funds flow for fear of triggering Chinese retaliation and a wider financial war.

The indictment reveals the extent to which the government believes China has facilitated the illicit network. Though U.N. member states since early 2016 are supposed to have expelled branches of North Korean banks, the indictment said such branches are still operating in Beijing and Shenyang, China.

And it said that five Chinese citizens have been overseeing covert FTB branches, including in Shenyang and Libya.

“This adds to the already overwhelming evidence that China’s government is willfully assisting Kim Jong Un in his violations of North Korea sanctions,” said Joshua Stanton, who helped write the 2016 law that strengthened North Korea sanctions.

“I’ll believe it’s ‘maximum pressure’ when those banks begin to face nine- and 10-digit penalties, like the ones President Obama imposed on European banks that broke Iran sanctions,” said Stanton, who has advised House and Senate staffers on North Korea sanctions law.

Evans J.R. Revere, a former State Department official focused on East Asia, lauded the U.S. government for going after Chinese banks and other entities enabling North Korea’s illicit activities. “This will complicate U.S.-China relations, but that may be a necessary risk if the U.S. is serious about pressuring Pyongyang,” he said.

The charges against North Korean bank officials and agents marks an escalation of U.S. enforcement efforts, potentially restricting the number of countries where Pyongyang is willing to risk sending its personnel and signaling greater U.S. willingness to risk confrontation with host countries to expel, arrest or extradite them, analysts said.

None of the defendants are in custody, officials said. The U.S. government also filed asset forfeiture charges and has already quietly seized more than $63 million, the indictment said.

U.S. officials including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Trump national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien have complained publicly this year that China and Russia have weakened sanctions and aided illegal smuggling. The Justice Department last year charged Huawei, which is supported by the Chinese government, with bank fraud and Iranian sanctions violations. In 2017, ZTE pleaded guilty to violating U.S. sanctions against Iran and North Korea, and paid $1.19 billion in fines imposed by the U.S. government.

Thursday’s actions reflected the latest U.S. legal actions scrutinizing those two firms’ conduct in particular, as well as that of five unnamed Chinese banks that worked with FTB, even as Washington and Beijing have moved to ease tensions over a trade war championed by Trump.

Thursday’s indictment did not name Huawei, but included allegations that align with reporting last July by The Washington Post that Huawei allegedly partnered with a Chinese state-owned firm, Panda International Information Technology Co. Ltd., and a second company to build a major North Korea wireless telecom network, according to documents and people familiar with the projects.

The indictment charged two co-defendants with arranging to pay for Panda’s work in North Korea through U.S. dollars by stating falsely to a Chinese bank in 2014 that an FTB front company in Shenyang was wiring payments to Panda and the second company, Dandong Kehua Economic and Trade Co., for legitimate equipment purchases, as previously reported by The Post.

According to the charges, an employee for Huawei, referred to as “Chinese telecommunications company 1” in the indictment, also received a receipt showing that a Nov. 5, 2015, payment to a Chinese company for a shipment of electronic goods to North Korea had been blocked by a U.S. bank. The following day the employee received an updated receipt from the company and an FTB agent in Shenyang that falsely stated the goods’ destination was Hong Kong, when it was in fact North Korea, the indictment said

Spokespeople for Huawei and Panda could not immediately be reached for comment.

In a statement last year, Huawei said it “has no business presence” in North Korea, and “is fully committed to comply with all applicable laws and regulations in the countries and regions where we operate, including all export control and sanction laws and regulations” of the U.N., United States and European Union.

The indictment also reveals details of an earlier prosecution involving a Hong Kong shell firm hit with sanctions in 2017 that worked with Chinese telecommunications maker ZTE.

The new indictment charges three defendants who officials say managed the Mingzheng International Trading Limited front company to launder money for FTB. The activity occurred, according to the indictment, despite intermittent failures in which three Chinese banks at times blocked payments, and one advised that a U.S. bank stopped the transaction because of U.S. sanctions aimed at the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The indictment said Mingzheng and Dandong Kehua worked with “Chinese telecommunications company 2,” a reference that aligns with ZTE, to purchase handsets from at least 2013 to 2015 despite a prohibition on shipment to embargoed countries.

The U.S. indictment draws on Chinese bank records, including a recorded July 2014 phone call by one Mingzheng manager about opening an account with “Chinese Bank 4,” which later passed on the U.S. sanctions warning.

The records appear to be ones requested under Justice Department subpoenas upheld last July by a U.S. appeals court to three large Chinese banks linked to Mingzheng that U.S. investigators were probing, and which later identified themselves as the Bank of Communications, China Merchants Bank and Shanghai Pudong Development Bank

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Two-star general takes office as new senior member of armistice commission

SEOUL, May 27 (Yonhap) — A two-star South Korean general took office Wednesday as the chief delegate of the United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission (UNCMAC), the U.S.-led command said.

Army Maj. Gen. Kang In-soon replaced Maj. Gen. Kim Jong-moon as the senior member of the UNCMAC during an inauguration ceremony earlier in the day, according to the command, which enforces the armistice that halted the 1950-53 Korean War.

A South Korean general has taken the position since 1991.

“ROK Army Major General Kang In-soon accepted responsibility to act as the UNC Commander’s lead delegate for #Armistice maintenance & enforcement,” the command said in a Facebook post. ROK stands for the South’s official name, the Republic of Korea.

In this photo, captured from the Facebook page of the United Nations Command (UNC), Army Maj. Gen. Kang In-soon (C) poses for a photo during an inauguration ceremony to take office as the new senior member of the command's Military Armistice Commission on May 27, 2020. To his left is UNC Commander Gen. Robert Abrams. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

In this photo, captured from the Facebook page of the United Nations Command (UNC), Army Maj. Gen. Kang In-soon (C) poses for a photo during an inauguration ceremony to take office as the new senior member of the command’s Military Armistice Commission on May 27, 2020. To his left is UNC Commander Gen. Robert Abrams. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

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Article: https://en.yna.co.kr/view/AEN20200527007500325?section=national/defense

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Top U.S. military officer calls for readiness against N. Korea, other actors

By Lee Haye-ah

WASHINGTON, May 28 (Yonhap) — The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff called on service members Thursday to focus on the threats posed by North Korea and other actors while protecting themselves in the coronavirus pandemic.

Gen. Mark Milley spoke in a virtual town hall with service members and Department of Defense civilians to answer questions about COVID-19.

“I would just leave with two thoughts,” he said. “One is, protect the force. Continue to protect yourself and your families because we can’t protect the American people if we ourselves are not healthy.”

Secondly, he cited “our mission.”

“The world is a big world,” Milley said. “There’s a lot of things out there that are not necessarily in the United States’ interests that happen every single day, from terrorists to Russia to China to Iran and North Korea, and all kinds of other threats and challenges that are out there.”

U.S. forces have been operating effectively within the COVID-19 environment, he said.

“So keep your eye on the ball. Stay attuned to readiness. Let’s keep your operational skills up to speed. And then protect yourself, protect your family and we’ll be in good shape,” he added.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman Ramon Colon-Lopez also took questions during the town hall.

This EPA file photo shows U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (Yonhap)

This EPA file photo shows U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (Yonhap)

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U.S. charges N. Koreans with laundering $2.5 bln to support nuclear program

WASHINGTON, May 28 (Yonhap) — The U.S. Justice Department has indicted more than 30 North Korean and Chinese individuals on charges of laundering over US$2.5 billion to help fund Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program, according to an indictment unsealed Thursday.

The defendants — 28 North Koreans and five Chinese nationals — are accused of using a web of more than 200 shell companies to launder the funds through the international banking system, The New York Times reported.

The money went to North Korea’s state-owned Foreign Trade Bank and was used to support the country’s weapons of mass destruction program, it said.

“The charges alleged in this indictment arise from a multiyear scheme to covertly access the U.S. financial system in spite of sanctions which are intended to deal with unusual and extraordinary threats to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States,” said the 50-page indictment by the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.

North Korea is under multiple layers of U.S. and United Nations sanctions for its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

U.S.-North Korea negotiations to dismantle the nuclear program have made little progress despite three meetings between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

This EPA file photo shows the U.S. Justice Department in Washington. (Yonhap)

This EPA file photo shows the U.S. Justice Department in Washington. (Yonhap)

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U.N. group asks N. Korea to determine whereabouts of 34 missing persons

SEOUL, May 28 (Yonhap) — A U.N. group has requested that North Korea release information on about 30 civilians presumed to have gone missing or been abducted mostly during the Korean War.

According to a report posted on its website, the U.N. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) made the request in a letter sent to the North last November.

In the letter, it requested that North Korea provide information on a total of 34 “enforced disappearance” cases, including 27 people who were allegedly taken to the North against their will during the 1950-53 war.

It has not been confirmed whether the North has provided a response to the request.

Enforced disappearance refers to a person who has gone missing after having been arrested, detained or abducted by a government or state-run organization.

Launched in 1980, the U.N. group has assisted families in locating the whereabouts of their relatives who have disappeared. It delivers such allegations to relevant governments and demands they share the outcome of their investigations.

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U.S. nuclear forces are ready and deter all adversaries, including N. Korea: Pentagon official

YONHAP NEWS  |  By Lee Haye-ah

WASHINGTON, May 26 (Yonhap) — The United States’ nuclear forces are ready and deter all adversaries, including potentially North Korea, a Pentagon official said Tuesday after the communist nation vowed to build its nuclear deterrence.

Drew Walter, currently performing the duties of deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear matters, said the U.S. is aware of the size of North Korea’s nuclear stockpile and it is not as large as those of other nuclear-armed nations.

“I think the Department (of Defense) has taken a view that our nuclear forces, as they exist, are ready and robust and deter all adversaries, whether that’s from Russia to China, to potentially North Korea or Iran,” he said during a virtual seminar hosted by the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies. “Similarly, they assure allies, whether that’s NATO or South Korea or Japan.”

“I don’t foresee very exquisite new capabilities to deter North Korea in that sense,” he added.

North Korean state media reported Sunday that leader Kim Jong-un presided over a Central Military Commission meeting and discussed “new policies for further increasing the nuclear war deterrence of the country.”

U.S. President Donald Trump has sought to dismantle the North’s nuclear weapons program through three meetings with Kim, but progress has stalled as the North has demanded sanctions relief and other concessions in return.

The two sides last held working-level negotiations in October, and pundits expect little action before the November presidential election in the U.S.

Walter said that for classification reasons he would not answer a question on the amount of nuclear material North Korea has accumulated while negotiations have stalled.

“We have a fairly decent picture as to what North Korea’s production capacity has been able to generate so far,” he said. “They are not yet on the scale of some of our other nuclear-armed potential adversaries.”

This AFP file photo shows the Pentagon building in Arlington, Virginia. (Yonhap)

This AFP file photo shows the Pentagon building in Arlington, Virginia. (Yonhap)

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Army posthumously decorates soldier killed in Korean War after finding remains in DMZ

YONHAP NEWS

SEOUL, May 27 (Yonhap) — South Korea posthumously awarded a medal to a soldier killed in the 1950-53 Korean War after his remains were recently found during an excavation project inside the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the Army said Wednesday.

The Army delivered the medal to the son of the late Ssg. Jeong Yeong-jin, marking the first time an award is given to the war bereaved, after confirming the identity of the remains found during the excavation operation on Arrowhead Ridge inside the DMZ.

Under a bilateral military accord signed in 2018, the two Koreas agreed to launch a joint excavation project on the former battle site. But the South has carried out the project alone since last year, as the North did not respond to calls for joint work.

Born in 1926, the staff sergeant joined the military in 1952 and died the next year, just two weeks before the truce was signed.

The government had decided to give the medal to the late soldier a year after he died, but it could not deliver the award as contacts with the bereaved family were not well established at that time.

“I hope this can also happen to the numerous bereaved families who are waiting for their beloved ones and the families of the people of merits who could not receive the medal,” the son, Jeong Hae-soo, said.

Last year, the military found around 2,030 bone fragments believed to have belonged to about 261 troops killed in the war, according to the defense ministry.

In this photo provided by the Army, Jeong Hae-soo (L) poses on May 27, 2020, after receiving a medal for his father, Ssg. Jeong Yeong-jin, who was killed during the 1950-53 Korean War. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

In this photo provided by the Army, Jeong Hae-soo (L) poses on May 27, 2020, after receiving a medal for his father, Ssg. Jeong Yeong-jin, who was killed during the 1950-53 Korean War. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

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Article: https://en.yna.co.kr/view/AEN20200527004851325?section=national/defense

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World watches as South Korea cautiously returns to life

Stars and Stripes  |  By HYUNG-JIN KIM

People walk at the Cheonggye Stream during launch time in Seoul, South Korea, on May 22, 2020. People are increasingly dining out and enjoying nighttime strolls in public parks. As South Korea significantly relaxes its rigid social distancing rules as a result of waning coronavirus cases, the world is paying close attention to whether it can return to something that resembles normal or face a virus resurgence. AHN YOUNG-JOON/AP

SEOUL, South Korea — The baseball league is on. Students have begun returning to school. And people are increasingly dining out and enjoying nighttime strolls in public parks.

As South Korea significantly relaxes its rigid social distancing rules as a result of waning coronavirus cases, the world is paying close attention to whether it can return to something that resembles normal — or face a virus resurgence. Already, a mini-outbreak linked to nightclubs in Seoul has tested South Korea’s widely praised method for dealing with the disease — essentially a combination of rapid tracing, testing and treatment, along with stringent social distancing practices.

“Other countries must be wondering whether our nation will continue to make good progress,” said Jin Yong Kim, a doctor at Incheon Medical Center near Seoul who confirmed South Korea’s first patient on Jan. 20 and has since treated more than 100 others. “But I can’t predict with authority what will happen here from now on.”

South Korea once had the world’s largest number of coronavirus cases outside mainland China, but its daily caseload has since dropped to around 10-30 and occasionally has hit single digits in recent weeks. South Korea on Wednesday still reported 40 new cases, its biggest daily jump in about 50 days.

The recent uptick in fresh infections linked to nightclubs in Seoul’s Itaewon entertainment district has raised fears of another big outbreak. Since the first patient was associated with the nightclubs on May 6 — the same day social distancing policy was officially eased — South Korea has confirmed more than 250 related cases.

It’s unclear how things will play out, but so far the outbreak hasn’t grown, unlike what happened in late February and early March when hundreds of new patients were reported each day, many of them tied to a controversial church gathering in the country’s southeast.

The tried and tested methods of aggressive tracing, testing and treatment and the widespread public use of masks again played a major role in preventing the outbreak in Itaewon from exploding, said Hyukmin Lee, a professor at Yonsei University of College of Medicine in Seoul.

South Korean officials previously said their nation was approaching its economic and social limits. But Lee said the government now has to think about whether it can tolerate small outbreaks and let the economy operate smoothly, or if it should restore strict social distancing rules.

Meanwhile, daily life — of a sort — has resumed.

Long-delayed baseball and soccer seasons began without fans in the stands. Public parks, museums and outdoor leisure facilities have reopened. High school seniors returned to class last week, and younger students will do the same in phases by June 8.

These days, during lunch time, restaurants in downtown Seoul are crowded with office workers, and many have stopped working from home. During evening rush hours, subways are packed with commuters wearing masks. At night, in a park in western Seoul, it’s easy to find young couples strolling without masks.

South Korea’s quarantine campaign is often compared with that of the U.S., U.K. and Italy, some of the hardest-hit countries. They all noticed their first cases in late January.

South Korea launched widespread testing fairly early, and in early February it had open public testing, which was available to asymptomatic people, and pursued contact tracing for all confirmed patients. Italy’s testing increased much more slowly. In the case of the U.K., despite its early head start on testing, there were signs that it wasn’t able to keep up with the outbreak. Testing in the United States began in earnest in mid-March, according to a recent analysis in Our World in Data, a nonprofit online scientific publication based at the University of Oxford.

Of the 5.6 million people infected worldwide, the United States tops the list with about 1.6 million while both the U.K. and Italy have more than 230,000 cases respectively. South Korea has recorded a total of 11,265 cases with 269 deaths.

Jaehun Jung, a professor at Gachon University College of Medicine, said lifting restrictions in the United States, U.K. and Italy will likely cause a second wave of COVID-19 that he said could be “much bigger and more severe.”

In South Korea, officials said the reopening of schools will likely be a major yardstick for whether authorities can maintain the relaxed restrictions. The French government said last week that about 70 virus cases had been linked to schools, one week after a third of French schoolchildren went back to school in an easing of the coronavirus lockdown.

There is a sense that South Korea’s hard-won gains could be reversed without vigilance.

“South Korea will face a second virus wave, too. Whether there are outbreaks that are 10 times bigger than what happened in Itaewon or smaller ones, we’ll continue to see them,” said Kim, the doctor at Incheon Medical Center. “If we consider our high population density … we are rather more vulnerable to the virus than (even the U.S.).”


Article: https://www.stripes.com/news/pacific/world-watches-as-south-korea-cautiously-returns-to-life-1.631298?fbclid=IwAR2OexJtIDSFXLfsa2iU62ubjpdleSlNQ1jy0VKicfrGxu6nwUJ5a6ew9wU

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U.S. could build trust with North Korea by following South’s lead: Brooks

In interview with NK News podcast, former USFK chief suggests U.S. take a more conciliatory approach in talks with DPRK

U.S. could build trust with North Korea by following South’s lead: Brooks

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U.S. position in defense cost talks undermines S. Korea alliance : expert

Yonhap News  |  By Lee Haye-ah

WASHINGTON, May 21 (Yonhap) — The United States’ insistence that South Korea shoulder a much larger share of the cost of the U.S. troop presence risks hurting the alliance at a time when both sides need each other, a Korea expert said Thursday.

Victor Cha, former director for Asian affairs at the White House National Security Council, made the comment in response to the ongoing impasse in the two countries’ negotiations for a defense cost-sharing deal.

“The sad part of all this is that the alliance has become consumed by this one technical issue, and it’s soured South Korean views of the alliance,” he said during a virtual seminar hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.

“It’s not as well covered here in the United States, obviously. And for what? You know, for like dollars and cents, when this alliance has a deep history. Both countries need each other. They’re very important partners to each other in the world,” he said.

This file photo shows Victor Cha, former director for Asian affairs at the White House National Security Council. (Yonhap)

This file photo shows Victor Cha, former director for Asian affairs at the White House National Security Council. (Yonhap)

U.S. President Donald Trump has rejected South Korea’s latest offer to increase its contribution by 13 percent for the hosting of 28,500 American troops in the country.

The Trump administration has instead asked for US$1.3 billion a year, an increase of nearly 50 percent.

In the absence of a new agreement, U.S. Forces Korea has placed some 4,000 South Korean employees on unpaid leave since the beginning of April.

Drawing on his experience of working in Congress, Robert King, a former special envoy for North Korea’s human rights issues, weighed in that the alliance actually serves U.S. interests.

“I think most members of Congress who serve longer than most presidents tend to see the value of participation of other countries and in our alliance as something that benefits the United States,” King said.

“We’re not doing this for the benefit of South Korea or for the benefit of Europe. We’re doing these things because it’s in our interest, and it’s useful to get support and cooperation of other countries who share the values, the concerns, the ideas that motivate us as well.”

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