US indicts 28 North Koreans alleging a $2.5bn scheme

Prosecutors unsealed a 50-page indictment alleging North Korea’s state-owned bank was used to process illegal payments.

North Korea
People wearing protective face masks in front of Pyongyang Station in Pyongyang, North Korea, where the state-owned bank on Thursday was accused by the United States Department of Justice of evading US sanctions laws [File: Kyodo/via Reuters]

The Justice Department accused more than two dozen North Korean and Chinese individuals with operating an illegal global financial network to aid Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and missile program in violation of U.S. sanctions.

The department unsealed a 50-page indictment on Thursday alleging that the participants used North Korea’s state-owned Foreign Trade Bank to process about $2.5 billion in illegal payments.

“The charges alleged in this indictment arise from a multiyear scheme to covertly access the U.S. financial system in spite of sanctions which are intended to deal with unusual and extraordinary threats to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States,” according to the indictment by the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia.

Despite punishing U.S. and international sanctions and several summits with President Donald Trump, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has found ways around the economic restrictions on his country and so far has refused to abandon his nuclear weapons program.

Although none of the people charged in the indictment are in custody, the move reflects the U.S.’s escalating efforts to target foreign nationals allegedly involved in criminal activity even if they’re difficult to apprehend.

“The defendants in this case used more than 250 front companies to obscure $2.5 billion in illicit financial dealings conducted by North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank,” Michael Sherwin, the acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, said in an interview.

“Through this indictment, the United States has signified its commitment to hampering North Korea’s ability to illegally access the U.S. financial system and limit its ability to use proceeds from illicit actions to enhance its illegal WMD and ballistic missile programs,” Sherwin said, referring to weapons of mass destruction.

A confidential United Nations report earlier this year said North Korea had stepped up its exports of illegal coal shipments in 2019, with most of those deliveries headed for China.

Source: Bloomberg