Defector: North Korea procures Russian oil through contacts in Singapore

By Elizabeth Shim  |  June 28, 2017 at 9:28 AM
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June 28 (UPI) -- A North Korean defector who once managed Kim Jong Un's slush fund says Pyongyang continues to use Singapore-based trading firms to import oil from Russia.

In his first public interview since his defection to South Korea in 2014, then relocation to the United States in 2016, former North Korean official Ri Jong Ho said the "Singapore Line" founded in the 1990s is still operational today, Voice of America reported Tuesday.

Ri, who managed Room or Office 39, the secret North Korean Workers' Party organization in charge of maintaining the regime's foreign currency slush fund, said Kim continues to bring in supplies from the outside world, including 200,000-300,000 tons of crude oil from Russia, through intermediaries in Singapore.

The defector also said Room 39 responsibilities may have been transferred to other departments since he sought asylum in the United States.

During his tenure at the organization, when he oversaw production and trade, North Korea procured Russian oil through firms in Singapore. Ri also oversaw the purchase of oil tankers from Japan between 1997 and 2005.

The defector said ship movements in the region support evidence the Singapore Line is still operational, and that Pyongyang imports 50,000-100,000 tons of gasoline from China annually.

Ri was commended by the regime in 2002 for his efforts in the areas of the "economic, cultural and construction" sectors, according to VOA. Ri decided to defect as he witnessed purges in 2014.

Gasoline shortages have been recently reported in Pyongyang, following increased Chinese sanctions against the country for its ongoing testing of ballistic missiles that may be capable of reaching Japan and the Pacific.

North Korea continues to disparage the United States in light of recent events: U.S. sanctions against North Korean firms and officials and U.S. responses to the death of Otto Warmbier following his release from North Korean detention.

On Tuesday North Korea's KCNA news agency said President Donald Trump's policy of putting "America first" was the "U.S. version of Nazism."

Trump's immigration policy, North Korea said, "raises the resentment of large corporations that earn profits from immigrant labor, and denies the multiethnic, multiracial history of the United States."

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated Ri defected to the United States in 2014.

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