US Court Ordered to Confiscate Tanker That Was Illegally Supplying North Korea With Oil
© REUTERS / LUCY NICHOLSONAn oil tanker waits in line in the ocean outside the Port of Long Beach-Port of Los Angeles complex, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., April 7, 2021
© REUTERS / LUCY NICHOLSON
With international pressure on Pyongyang surging significantly after the latest nuclear tests in 2017, the UN Security Council has restricted oil exports to North Korea, imposing caps on annual imports and requirements for exporters to report their shipments. In addition, any loading of oil onto a North Korean tanker violates UN resolutions.
New York Federal Court has ruled to confiscate the oil tanker Courageous, reportedly used for illicit petroleum shipment through shore- and ship-to-ship transfers aimed to provide North Korea with oil products, according to a statement from the US Department of Justice.
As court documents read, the scheme that included the purchase of the vessel and financial operations, made in dollars and via American banks, aimed to circumvent sanctions imposed on North Korea and have violated US law and UN Security Council resolutions.
The alleged owner and operator of the tanker, Singaporean national Kwek Kee Seng, is at large and is expected to be charged for "conspiracy to evade economic sanctions on the DPRK and money laundering conspiracy."
“The DPRK and individuals or entities that the Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), has determined are involved in the facilitation of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction are prohibited from engaging in transactions with US persons or using the US financial system,” the statement reads.
Courageous, which was said to have been purchased “through front companies,” did not provide necessary data regarding its location between August and December of 2019. During this period the tanker was said to have transferred over $1.5 million worth of oil for North Korea. Courageous has been loading the oil onto the North Korean ship, Saebyol.
© REUTERS / KCNAA newly developed new-type tactical guided projectile, which KCNA reports is launched on March 25, 2021, is pictured in this photo released March 26, 2021 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang, North Korea
A newly developed new-type tactical guided projectile, which KCNA reports is launched on March 25, 2021, is pictured in this photo released March 26, 2021 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang, North Korea
© REUTERS / KCNA
To hide the illicit shipments, Kwek reportedly was “operating a series of shell companies, lying to international shipping authorities” and “falsely identifying Courageous as another ship.”
“In furtherance of the scheme, Kwek and his co-conspirators arranged for a variety of payments denominated in US dollars that were processed through US-based correspondent accounts to purchase oil,” the department said.
The tanker was detained in March 2020 by Cambodian authorities prior to when the Southern District Court of New York filed a civil forfeiture complaint against the owners of the vessel.
North Korea has been under severe economic and political sanctions aimed to restrict the country's nuclear activity and exert pressure on Pyongyang to denuclearize. International restrictions on trade and other crucial industries have deepened, covering, among other things, the country’s oil supplies. The sanctions, imposed by the UN Security Council, stipulate that oil suppliers trading with North Korea inform the UN about the shipments.