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North Korea trading in arms, oil and luxury goods despite sanctions, UN panel finds

US President Donald Trump, right, walks with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un during a break in talks at the second US-North Korea summit at the Sofitel Legend Metropole hotel in Hanoi on Feb. 28, 2019. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Selling arms to rebels in Yemen, Libya and Sudan. Smuggling coal and oil from ship to ship in the middle of the ocean. Diplomats and ship captains carrying bulks of cash. Cyberattacks, including one involving more than 14,000 ATM withdrawals in 28 countries.

Those are just some of the increasingly brazen and sophisticated methods North Korea has used to skirt international sanctions designed to pressure the isolated country into giving up its nuclear program, according to a U.N. Security Council report released Tuesday.

The 378-page report comes on the heels of last month’s meeting between North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump, in which Kim sought unsuccessfully to get the sanctions lifted, making the case that they were hurting the livelihood of his people.

Trump said he wanted to “take off the sanctions so badly” but the concessions offered by North Korea just weren’t enough.

According to the U.N. report, North Korea has found plenty of workarounds.

Beginning in 2006, the United Nations has imposed several rounds of increasingly restrictive sanctions on North Korea as punishment for its nuclear program, cutting the nation off from the international financial system, banning key exports such as coal, iron and seafood and limiting imports of crude oil and petroleum products.

But North Korea is getting better and better at avoiding detection and dodging sanctions enforcement to illicitly export arms and coal for cash, and import oil and luxury goods, according to the panel of experts who authored the report. Particularly adverse to the international pressure campaign against North Korea is its ability to sell coal and obtain oil at sea, the panel found.

“The nuclear and ballistic missile programs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea remain intact and the country continues to defy Security Council resolutions through a massive increase in illegal ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum products and coal,” the experts wrote, referring to North Korea by its official name. “These violations render the latest United Nations sanctions ineffective.”

North Korea’s sanctions violations are creative and multipronged, according to the report. North Korean entities are believed to have explored developing a 40,000-acre gold mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The country is also believed to be involved in military buildups in Iran, Syria and Sierra Leone. North Korea also appears to have illegally sold fishing rights in its waters; at least 15 Chinese fishing vessels were caught with North Korean fishing licenses.

A major money maker: cyberattacks on banks and cryptocurrency exchanges.

“These more recent attacks show how the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has become an increasingly sophisticated actor in cyberattacks for financial gain, with tools and tactics steadily improving,” the experts wrote. One “advanced, well-planned and highly coordinated operation” managed to bypass three layers of Interpol protections, according to the report.

All the while, the country is managing to illegally import luxury goods including fancy cars and vodka, the panel found. Among them is the Mercedes-Benz limousine that carried Kim to his meetings with Trump in Singapore, according to the report.

At the same time, North Korea continues to protest that the sanctions are inhumane and oppressive.

Kim Song, North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations, wrote to the U.N. secretary-general this week complaining that sanctions appeared to be attempting “to destroy modern civilization and turn the society back in a medieval dark age,” according to state-run Korea Central News Agency.

He urged the U.N. to lift sanctions that “run counter to the prevailing situation and public sentiment of the world,” according to the KCNA.


© 2019 Los Angeles Times

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.