SEOUL, Feb. 28 (UPI) -- North Korea has been aiming to expand its illegal trade network in order to circumvent global sanctions against its nuclear and missile program, various media reports showed Thursday.
South Korean government sources told Dong-a Ilbo that Pyongyang has been exporting goods worth millions to African countries.
One trade route is through the high seas, the sources said. North Korean vessels smuggle goods through a ship-to-ship transfer to vessels headed to African ports.
North Korean agents in Africa, then, collect the payments and deliver them to North Korean vessels through small boats such as fishing boats, or they send the money to Pyongyang directly through diplomatic pouches.
A United Nations Security Council report released last September revealed North Korea earns up to $200 million a year by providing arms, military training support, coal and other resources to 11 African countries.
Syria has also been a major export destination, according to a U.N. sanctions report reviewed by the New York Times on Thursday.
At least 40 previously unreported shipments, possibly containing chemical weapons components, were made by North Korea to Syria between 2012 and 2017.
Since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, there have been suspicions the North was providing components and expertise to maintain Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons program.
The North is said to use a complex network of shell companies and third country citizens to access international financing as well as its own diplomats for smuggling operations.
On Tuesday, U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Washington has had concerns about North Korea's trade ties with Syria for some time, "especially as North Korea becomes more desperate, they look for different, creative, and horrific ways to try to make money to fund their criminal regime."
The Dong-a Ilbo reported the U.S. is likely to scale up measures to prevent North Korea's illegal trade operations, quoting a U.S. government official who said there's a high chance Washington will impose additional sanctions on vessels entering and leaving African ports.