Singapore firm convicted of aiding N. Korean arms shipment

AP News
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Posted: Dec 14, 2015 8:08 AM

SINGAPORE (AP) — A Singapore-registered shipping company was found guilty Monday of transferring tens of thousands of dollars used to transport fighter jets and surface-to-air missile systems from Cuba to North Korea in 2013.

The haul, hidden under heaps of sugar and discovered by Panamanian authorities, was the biggest load of arms and related materials ever to be intercepted on its way to or from the isolated North.

In announcing the verdict, Singapore District Judge Jasvender Kaur said the firm, Chinpo Shipping Company, could have contributed to the nuclear-related programs or activities of North Korea.

The company was also found guilty of running a remittance business without a valid license for more than four years.

Chinpo had wired $72,017 from its Bank of China account to a Panama-based shipping agent in July 2013 for the return passage of the MV Chong Chon Gang through the Panama Canal.

The MV Chong Chon Gang was managed by the North Korean company Ocean Maritime Management, a longtime client of Chinpo.

That month, Panamanian authorities found the ship loaded with arms and related materials weighing 474 tons, including two MiG-21 fighter jets, anti-tank rockets and SA-2 and SA-3 Russian surface-to-air missile systems. The military equipment was bound for North Korea and hidden under 10,500 tons of sugar in the cargo hold.

Instead of asking its client for documentation to find out what the remittance was for, the company failed to conduct due diligence, the judge said.

"Accordingly, the prosecution does not have the legal burden of proving that the defendant company knowingly transferred that sum," she said. "Chinpo was aware of the U.S. and United Nations sanctions against DPRK. Since the second half of 2010, Chinpo stopped indicating the name of vessels in the outgoing remittance forms."

DPRK is the acronym for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Defense lawyer Edmond Pereira argued that the company did not conduct remittance transactions for purposes of gain, and that remittances were contingent to its role as Ocean Maritime Management's general and special agent.

Chinpo had applied for a total of 605 outward remittances totaling $40 million from 2009 to 2013 on behalf of North Korean entities. Chinpo's director, Tan Cheng Hoe, also heads associated companies Tonghee Shipping Agency and Great Best Trading.

When The Associated Press visited Chinpo's listed address, another company said it has occupied the premises for more than a year. The case was adjourned until Jan. 29 to give prosecution and defense lawyers time to make submissions.

Chinpo violated a United Nations law adopted by Singapore that prohibits the provision of financial services, assets or resources to North Korea that "may be reasonably be used to contribute to the nuclear-related, ballistic missile-related, or other weapons of mass destruction-related programs or activities." The maximum sentence is a fine of 100,000 Singapore dollars ($71,000) and five years in jail.

North Korea recently has threatened to flex its nuclear muscles. The country's leader, Kim Jong-un, said Thursday that the North had developed a hydrogen bomb — a step up from the less powerful atomic bomb. The U.S. and others have raised doubts about the claim.