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    N. Korea's money in Macao bank could be unfrozen in April

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    North Korea's account in a Macao bank, blocked at the U.S. request over counterfeiting and money laundering accusations against the Communist regime, could be unfrozen by early April, a Korean bank official said Thursday.

    HONG KONG, March 1 (RIA Novosti) - North Korea's account in a Macao bank, blocked at the U.S. request over counterfeiting and money laundering accusations against the Communist regime, could be unfrozen by early April, a Korean bank official said Thursday.

    Authorities in China's special administrative area froze the $24 million account in the privately owned Banco Delta Asia (BDA) in September 2005, a move that prompted Pyongyang to withdraw from long-running international talks on its nuclear program.

    Colin McAskill, spokesman for North Korea's Daedong bank, met Wednesday night with Herculano de Sousa, president of the administrative commission appointed to run BDA throughout a probe into its possible illegal connection with Pyongyang.

    McAskill said de Sousa had made it clear that the commission's mandate, which expires in late March, was unlikely to be prolonged and that BDA's external administration could be terminated, which meant Pyongyang's account would be automatically unblocked.

    Before the six-nation nuclear negotiations, involving North and South Koreas, the United States, Japan, China and Russia, resumed in December 2006, the North announced it had carried out its first nuclear bomb test.

    The latest round of talks in Beijing February 8-13 ended with the adoption of a plan of initial steps on Pyongyang's nuclear disarmament, which include aid, energy supplies and security guarantees for the impoverished country in exchange for its consent to dismantle the program.

    Media reports following the Beijing round said Washington was prepared to withdraw part of its financial claims against Pyongyang and to agree to unfreeze part of the money received from "legitimate" sources.

    McAskill said the investigation into the source of the money was over, and that his impression was that the Macao authorities did not find any serious violations.

    An aide to de Sousa confirmed by telephone the meeting with McAskill, who is also spokesman for Hong Kong's Koryo Asia company that owns 70% in Daedong, but denied further details. De Sousa was not available for comment.

    Macao's financial authorities have not commented on the talks so far.

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