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North Korean diplomat accused of trying to smuggle gold

A diplomat was apprehended in Bangladesh as sanctions and economic pressures weigh on the North Korea's secluded economy.

By Elizabeth Shim
Gold bars on view in Beijing, China. A North Korean man is accused of attempting to smuggle $1.7 million of gold into Bangladesh on Friday. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/599f02cdebf612ef39b4311f9235f85a/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Gold bars on view in Beijing, China. A North Korean man is accused of attempting to smuggle $1.7 million of gold into Bangladesh on Friday. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

DHAKA, Bangladesh, March 9 (UPI) -- North Korea's search for external sources of income was brought to the attention of officials in Bangladesh at an airport in Dhaka when a North Korean diplomat tried to transport $1.4 million worth of gold bars into the country Friday.

The North Korean national, Son Yung Nam, was accused of smuggling in 170 gold bars, The Los Angeles Times reported.

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Bangladeshi customs officials said the gold was most likely headed for a "local criminal racket" in order to raise cash for North Korea.

North Korea has been isolated from the financial system through a number of U.S. and U.N. sanctions, and according to The Heritage Foundation the secretive country has been connected to drug smuggling and money laundering in other parts of Asia.

RELATED China's pollution crackdown poses serious threat to North Korea's economy

On Jan. 2, in response to a cyberattack on Sony Pictures in November, the U.S. Treasury was granted the authority to place sanctions against individual North Koreans.

The Treasury has said the latest U.S. sanction allows a "broadening of [its] authority to increase financial pressure" on North Korea.

The economic pressures on Pyongyang also have recently intensified.

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Reliable trading partners like China cannot be counted upon as a destination for North Korea's coal, which along with iron ore comprise 60 percent of North Korean exports.

But North Korea lifted an Ebola-related travel ban on March 4, only days after notifying outside tour operators that organizers of the Pyongyang marathon would not allow foreigners to run in the annual sporting event.

The return to resumption of travel into North Korea is reopening its land border with China, and with it the promise of cash from tourism.

RELATED North Korea warns it will turn White House into a 'wasteland'

A train that runs between China and North Korea resumed service on Monday for the first time since Oct. 24, when North Korea placed Ebola-related travel restrictions on visitors.

The train left on Monday morning, carrying 72 passengers, Yonhap reported.

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