North Korea sanctions: UN investigating possible violations in about 20 countries

Alleged activities range from nuclear procurement in China to arms brokering in Syria

Kim Jong-un
 Kim Jong-un’s North Korea is facing claims it works with about 20 countries breaching UN sanctions. Photograph: Linh Pham/Getty Images

United Nations experts are investigating possible violations of UN sanctions on North Korea in about 20 countries, from alleged clandestine nuclear procurement in China to arms brokering in Syria and military cooperation with Iran, Libya and Sudan.

The expert panel’s 66-page report to the security council, obtained on Monday by the Associated Press, also detailed the appearance in North Koreaof a Rolls-Royce Phantom, Mercedes-Benz limousines and Lexus LX 570 all-wheel-drives in violation of a ban on luxury goods.

And it noted a trend in North Korea’s evasion of financial sanctions by using cyberattacks to “illegally force the transfer of funds from financial institutions and cryptocurrency exchanges”.

The report’s executive summary said North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs remained intact and its leaders were dispersing missile assembly and testing facilities to prevent “decapitation” strikes.

The full report said “the Yongbyon nuclear complex remained active”, noting that satellite imagery through November showed excavation of water channels and construction of a new building near the reactors’ water discharge facilities. Satellite imagery also “indicates possible operation of the radiochemical laboratory and associated steam plant”, it said.

The panel said it continued to monitor uranium concentration plants and mining sites in the country.

It also has “surveyed, confirmed and reported ballistic missile activity sites and found evidence of a consistent trend” by North Korea “to disperse its assembly, storage and testing locations”, the report said.

In addition to using civilian facilities, the panel said North Korea was using “previously idle or sprawling military-industrial sites as launch locations” – some close to, and some up to 10 km (six miles) from the assembly or storage sites.

As examples of this trend, it cited the test launch of Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missiles from the Panghyon aircraft factory on 4 July, 2017, and a launch from Mupyong-ni 24 days after that. It said Pyongyang’s Sunan international airport, the country’s largest civil-military airfield, was used to launch Hwasong-12 missiles on 29 August and 15 September of that year.

As for trade sanctions, the experts said they continued to investigate two Chinese companies on the UN sanctions blacklist – Namchogang Trading Corp and Namhung Trading Corp – and associated front companies and their representatives “for nuclear procurement activities”.

The experts said they were also continuing “multiple investigations into prohibited activities” between North Korea and the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad. These include reported arms brokering on behalf of North Korea “to a range of Middle Eastern and African states, reportedly offering conventional arms and, in some cases, ballistic missiles, to armed groups in Yemen and Libya,” the panel said. They also include North Koreans working for sanctioned entities and Syrian defence factories, it said.

The experts said a country, which they didn’t identify, had informed them that Iran “was one of the two most lucrative markets” for North Korean military cooperation and that the regime’s Korea Mining Development Trading Corp and Green Pine Associated Corp offices in the country were active. The unnamed country also indicated that North Koreans in Iran were being used as cash couriers, the report said.

The Iranian government replied to the panel that the only North Koreans in the country were diplomats, and they had not violated UN sanctions, the report said.

The panel said it was continuing investigations into “multiple attempts at military cooperation” between North Korea and various Libyan authorities and sanctioned entities and foreign nationals working on their behalf.

The experts said they were also continuing investigations into military cooperation projects between North Korea and Sudan, including information on activities involving a Syrian arms trafficker and technology for “anti-tank and man-portable air defence systems”.

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