A United Nations report release on Tuesday says North Korea has developed “sophisticated means” to circumvent UN sanctions, including the suspected use of its embassies around the world to facilitate an illegal trade in weapons.
The report is compiled by a panel of eight UN experts, and studies North Korea’s compliance with UN sanctions.
“From the incidents analyzed in the period under review, the panel has found that (North Korea) makes increasing use of multiple and tiered circumvention techniques,” the 127-page report said.
The panel said North Korea adopted a “corporate ecosystem” of foreign-based firms and individuals who helped it evade scrutiny of its assets and its financial and trade dealings.
According to Reuters, the UN the report said the embassies in Cuba and Singapore were suspected of organizing an illegal shipment of Cuban fighter jets and missile parts that were seized on a North Korean container ship in Panama last July.
It included secret North Korean documents addressed to the ship’s captain which offered detailed instructions on how to load and conceal the illegal weapons shipment, and make a false declaration to customs officers in Panama.
Panama seized the Chong Chon Gang ship for smuggling Soviet-era arms, including two MiG-21 jet fighters, under thousands of tons of sugar. After the discovery, Cuba acknowledged it was sending “obsolete” Soviet-era weapons to be repaired in North Korea and returned to Cuba.
“Load the containers first and load the 10,000 tons of sugar (at the next port) over them so that the containers cannot be seen,” the document, translated from Korean, said.
Chinpo Shipping, a firm that the report said was “co-located” with the North Korean embassy in Singapore, acted as the agent for a Pyongyang-based company that operated the vessel, and North Korean diplomatic personnel in Cuba arranged the shipping of the concealed cargo.
A North Korean embassy official, reached by telephone, denied the Singapore mission had engaged in any wrongdoing. The embassy had recently moved from the address listed in the report, added the official, who declined to give his name.
A Reuters reporter who went to the address could not find the embassy, just Chinpo Shipping. A receptionist said the firm’s head was not available to comment.
Singapore’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but the government’s stated policy is to enforce U.N. sanctions.
In response to media queries, the Singapore Foreign Affairs Ministry said it “takes a serious view of its obligations to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), their means of delivery, and related materials.” It said that it is cooperating with the United Nations in its investigations into illegal arms shipments to North Korea.
North Korea’s ambassador to Singapore, Jong Song-Il, in the meantime, said that the embassy’s activities are “transparent and in accordance with international law”, and describes the UN report as “groundless, untrue and unacceptable.”