MEXICO CITY, August 15 (RIA Novosti) – The Panama Canal authority has decided to impose an up to $1 million fine on a North Korean ship seized in July on suspicion of illegal arms-trafficking, the Latin American media reported Thursday.
Officials boarded the Chong Chon Gang freighter on July 10 as it entered the Panama Canal and discovered 25 undeclared containers with military hardware covered by sacks of brown sugar from Cuba.
“It is a flagrant violation of safe passage through the Panama Canal and we have no tolerance for this kind of activity," the media quoted canal administrator Jorge Quijano as saying.
According to Quijano, the case of the North Korean freighter “is very serious” and it could lead to a fine of up to $1 million, although the authorities are still discussing the actual size of the fine.
Panama has earlier charged the ship’s captain and 35 crew members with "attempts against Panama's security" and "illegally transporting undeclared military equipment."
A group of experts from the UN Security Council committee that monitors sanctions against North Korea has arrived in Panama to determine whether the freighter violated a UN arms embargo imposed on Pyongyang over its nuclear and missile ambitions.
Both Pyongyang and Havana had admitted that the ship carried obsolete weapons to be repaired in North Korea and returned to Cuba under a legitimate contract. The sugar was intended as the payment from Cuba to North Korea for repair services.
The Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the vessel had two anti-aircraft missile complexes, nine missile parts and spares, two Mig-21 Bis and 15 motors for those planes, all manufactured in the mid-20th century.