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North Korea earned hundreds of millions through sanction-busting schemes

By Jennie Oh
North Korea earned hundreds of millions through sanction-busting schemes
File photo of Toksan Coal Mine under the Kangdong Area Coal Complex in North Korea. Photo by EPA/KCNA.

SEOUL, March 5 (UPI) -- North Korea has been curbing global sanctions through elaborate maritime trade operations, a Japanese daily reported Sunday.

The Asahi Shimbun report said North Korea had vessels travelling to Malaysia and Vietnam and as far as Russia without being detected, as automatic identification devices were manipulated to hide the location of the ships.

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Last July, a cargo ship headed to Russia suddenly turned off the tracking system in Chinese waters. The ship turned the system back on around a week later after it brought back coal from the North and resumed its course.

The vessel in question then arrived at a Russian port but didn't unload the coal until two weeks later when it arrived in Liaoning Province, China.

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This appears to have been a scheme to "launder" North Korean coal, according to the Japanese daily.

United Nations sanctions last August banned the North from exporting coal, following the regime's missile launches.

However, passing the coal off as Russian coal would allow the shipments to be sold in foreign markets.

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Targeting such smuggling tactics, U.S. President Donald Trump slapped a new round of sanctions on 50 vessels, shipping companies and trade entities around the world suspected of violating sanctions on North Korea.

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However, experts say the pariah state may find another way to circumvent sanctions. "Despite decades of economic isolation, North Korea nearly always finds a way to get what it needs, because there are always companies willing to take the risk," Andrea Berger, a London-based specialist in export control told the Washington Post.

The Asahi Shimbun estimates Pyongyang earned some $200 million from coal exports between January and September last year.

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