U.S. sanctions a Singaporean

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U.S. sanctions a Singaporean

The U.S. Treasury announced that it sanctioned a Singaporean trader and his two companies for allegedly laundering money for North Korea on Thursday, demonstrating that Washington is not leting up on pressure on Pyongyang to denuclearize.

Singapore-based Wee Tiong, a commodities trading company, and WT Marine, a marine fuels company, were blacklisted by the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control for evading international sanctions meant to cut off cash that can be used for North Korea’s nuclear and missiles program.

The office further designated Singaporean national Tan Wee Beng, 41, the director and a shareholder of Wee Tiong and managing director of WT Marine, for millions of dollars’ worth of transactions to finance shipments of goods to North Korea since at least 2011.

The companies were described by the office as posing “secondary sanctions risks” and were alleged to have engaged in money laundering through the U.S. financial system, the counterfeiting of goods or currency, bulk cash smuggling, narcotics trafficking, or other illicit economic activities that support the North Korean government.

At least one other individual in Tan’s company was also said to have been involved in such transactions, according to the Treasury, and they were alleged to have “knowingly” evaded financial sanctions on North Korea. The companies were said to have hand-delivered a bulk cash payment to a North Korean individual after a wire transfer was rejected.

On the same day, the U.S. Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation unsealed criminal charges against Tan, who has been placed on the FBI’s “most wanted” list. A federal arrest warrant was issued in late August, and Tan is charged with conspiracies to violate the sanctions on the North, commit bank fraud, launder money and defraud the United States.

Singapore-flagged vessels operated by WT Marine, JW Jewel and Nymex Star, were also designated by the Treasury for engaging in illicit economic activity supporting the North Korean government last year.

“Tan Wee Beng and his co-conspirators made deliberate efforts to launder money through the U.S. financial system on behalf of North Korea,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a statement. “Governments, financial institutions, and other companies worldwide need to be on high alert to these types of schemes. The U.S. government will not overlook these deceptive practices.”

Mnuchin continued, “We are deeply committed to the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea,” adding that the U.S. Treasury “will continue to enforce and implement sanctions until that time.”

Washington’s latest designation serves as a warning against North Korea’s use of third-country companies and individuals to access the U.S. and international financial systems and comes despite Pyongyang’s recent calls for an easing up on sanctions.

In late September, the U.S. Treasury Department conducted conference calls with major South Korean banks on international sanctions compliance, which came as Seoul tries to advance inter-Korean relations. Industry insiders interpreted this as a thinly veiled warning to South Korean financial institutes against evading sanctions.

The Justice Department accused Tan of using front companies in Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong to violate sanctions that deny North Korea access to the U.S. financial system. Tan, it added, conducted illegal financial transactions on behalf of North Korea’s Daedong Credit Bank, which has been blacklisted by the United States since June 2013 and by the United Nations since March 2016.

Bank fraud carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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