UN experts: North Korea enhances nukes and illicit trade


CAMEROON, Cameroon — U.N. experts say North Korea has increased imports and exports of banned and restricted goods such as coal and petroleum products as it continues to enhance its illicit nuclear and ballistic missile programs in violation of sanctions.

The experts identified new methods that the country is using to evade U.N. sanctions, including transferring 2.8 million metric tons of coal from North Korean-flagged vessels to Chinese barges that then headed to Chinese ports. This would be a violation of an August 2017 Security Council resolution that bans all exports of coal, North Korea’s largest source of foreign exchange.

The experts said the figures came from an unidentified member state, adding in a footnote: “A couple of experts are of the view that this information can be further corroborated.”

The Chinese U.N. Mission strongly rejected any claim that China violated sanctions, saying earlier this week that the country “has always faithfully and seriously fulfilled its international obligations and sustained huge losses and tremendous pressure in the process.”

The mission expressed “indignation and concern” at the leaking of the experts’ report, which ís not due to be made public until next month.

The summary and parts of the 67-page report, seen Friday by The Associated Press, said the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or DPRK — the country’s official name — continued the construction and maintenance of nuclear facilities, though it didn’t carry out any nuclear tests or tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles last year. It did conduct 13 other launches of at least 25 missiles, including new types, the experts said.

The panel stressed the link between North Korea’s nuclear program and its illegal exports, especially of coal.

“The DPRK’s continued violation of commodity export bans not only flouts Security Council resolutions but serves to fund a revenue stream that has historically contributed to the country’s prohibited nuclear and ballistic missile programs,” the experts said.

The panel said North Korea also continues to violate U.N. resolutions through its illicit import of refined petroleum products through ship-to-ship transfers and direct deliveries by foreign-flagged vessels. These vessels sail directly into Nampo, the main North Korean port for petroleum deliveries, it said.

“In some months between June and October 2019, the estimated deliveries by foreign-flagged tankers exceeded deliveries made by the DPRK tankers,” the experts said.

The panel said it received a report from the United States containing imagery, data and calculations of petroleum imports from January through Oct. 31, 2019.

According to the experts, under three different scenarios based on how full tankers were, the U.S. said the deliveries would have amounted to between three and eight times more than the 500,000- barrel annual cap on refined petroleum products set by the Security Council in December 2017.

“The Russian Federation and China requested more conclusive evidence to make a judgment,” the experts said.

The experts said Russia reported exporting 30,886 tons of refined petroleum products to North Korea during the first 11 months of 2019 and China reported exporting 22,739 tons during the year. The panel said it calculated that the total of Russian and Chinese export amounts would equal 408,576 barrels of refined petroleum products — below the annual limit.

As for coal, the panel said that according to the unidentified member state North Korea “exported 3.7 million metric tons of coal between January 2019 and August 2019, with an estimated value of $370 million.”

Discussing new sanctions evasion methods to export coal, the panel first cited the use of “self-propelled barges” that are over 100 metres (330 feet) in length and can undertake ocean voyages.

It also cited the use of larger foreign-flagged bulk carriers to deliver coal from North Korean-flagged vessels, as opposed to transferring coal to smaller lighter vessels for delivery. It said a bulk carrier destined for scrap is suspected of being acquired by North Korea to illicitly export coal.

The panel said North Korea also continues to use previous evasion tactics such as “indirect routing, detours, loitering and the use of false documentation when transporting DPRK origin commodities,” to make it appear banned commodities were loaded in ports other than in North Korea.

North Korea also continues to import other banned items such as luxury vehicles, alcohol and robotic machinery, and it continues to send information technology workers abroad, including to Nepal, the experts said.

The panel said it also investigated several advertisements and exhibitions in China and Hong Kong of the artwork of North Korea’s Mansudae Art School, which is on the sanctions blacklist.

Edith M. Lederer, The Associated Press