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S Korea firms caught importing coal, iron from North: Seoul

AFP  |  Seoul 

Three South Korean firms were caught importing coal and iron from the North last year, said today, in an apparent violation of UN sanctions imposed in August 2017 on the nuclear-armed state.

More than 35,000 tonnes of North Korean coal and iron worth 6.6 billion won (USD 5.8 million) were imported into the South between April and October last year, the Customs Service said.

In addition to breaking South Korean law, some of the shipments were likely to be in breach of UN resolutions as well, with the customs service warning that "any ships that are believed to have violated UN sanctions will be impounded or banned from entering South Korean ports".

In a complex process spanning three countries, coal shipments were first sent to Russia, where their details were disguised using forged "country of origin" documents, and then reloaded on ships bound for the South, the customs office said in a statement that followed a 10-month investigation by the authorities.

In another case, black coal imported from was transferred to the Russian port of Kholmsk, where it was "disguised as semi-coking coal that does not need country of origin documents", before being reloaded on ships heading to the South, the customs office said.

"Customs Service has confirmed seven criminal offences and it will report three persons and three companies to prosecution authorities with a request to indict them", it said.

"It is necessary to consider the timing of UN resolutions... to determine whether the activities were in breach" of sanctions as well, it added.

of the apparent breach comes after a UN report last week accused the North of evading sanctions by continuing to export coal, iron and other commodities as well as carrying out illegal ship-to-ship transfers of at sea.

Deliveries of iron and to China, and other countries generated nearly USD 14 million from October to March, the UN report said.

The South Korean investigation also uncovered a trade in pig iron, with the customs office saying that the suspects sold the to a South Korean buyer via a Hong Kong-based shell company.

It said the suspects appeared to have been paid in coal, rather than cash, for their role in helping the nuclear-armed regime export its products.

Last year the adopted a series of resolutions targeting North Korean exports of commodities and the isolated regime's in a bid to cut off revenue to its weapons programmes.

A recent diplomatic thaw culminated in a historic meeting between the North's and US in in June.

But there has been little evidence of concrete post-summit progress on the key issue of denuclearisation, with the North attacking the US for "gangster-like" demands of complete, verifiable and irreversible disarmament.

and have called on the to consider easing sanctions to reward for opening up dialogue with the and halting missile tests.

But has urged the international community to maintain maximum sanctions pressure, even suggesting tougher economic measures, in a bid to compel to give up its nuclear weapons.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Fri, August 10 2018. 13:10 IST