U.S. seizes North Korean coal ship for violating sanctions

U.S. Attorneys office for the Southern District of New York

Officials made the announcement hours after North Korea fired two suspected short-range missiles toward the sea, the second weapons launch in five days and a possible signal that stalled talks over its nuclear weapons program are in trouble.

In an unprecedented move, the US government seized a North Korean cargo vessel that was allegedly used to violate sanctions placed against the North Korean government.

He said about North Korea, "I believe they will keep escalating by using what appear to be short-range missiles, something that will not cause the U.S.to react right away".

Payments for the maintenance of the Wise Honest were allegedly made in USA dollars through unsuspecting U.S. banks - giving the United States authorities the opportunity to mount an unusual civil forfeiture legal action.

"North Korea, and the companies that help it evade USA and United Nations sanctions, should know that we will use all tools at our disposal - including a civil forfeiture action such as this one or criminal charges - to enforce the sanctions enacted by the USA and the global community", Assistant Attorney General Demers said.

The North had not previously fired a missile since November 2017, shortly before a rapid diplomatic thaw eased high tensions on the peninsula and paved the way for a historic first meeting between Kim and Trump.

Demers, in a statement on May 9, said the "sanctions-busting ship is now out of service".

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"This scheme not only allowed North Korea to evade sanctions, but the Wise Honest was also used to import heavy machinery to North Korea, helping expand North Korea's capabilities and continuing the cycle of sanctions evasion", he said.

According to the complaint, Indonesian maritime authorities intercepted and detained the ship on April 2, 2018. The ship, in what USA officials say was a clear act of concealment, also turned off an automatic signal system meant to alert other ships of its course and location. It was used to transport North Korean coal to China, Russia and other countries.

Numerous other North Korean "ghost ships" with false, stolen, or obscured identification markings are said to engage in similar practices, but the Wise Honest is the first one seized by the United States.

FBI Assistant Director William Sweeney Jr said the seizure should serve as a signal that the U.S. would not allow foreign adversaries to use its financial systems to fund weapons programs which will be used to threaten the country. Papers filed in USA federal court described its shipments as "a critical source of revenue for DPRK-based companies and for the North Korean government". I know they want to negotiate, they're talking about negotiating. DPRK is the North Korean government's preferred name for itself. The country will have an opportunity to contest the seizure in court.

Sanctions were placed on Pyongyang for past missile and nuclear provocations.

The missiles had an altitude of about 30 miles and hit the East Sea, known as the Sea of Japan, Yonhap reported, citing South Korea's Defense Military.

In that case, investigators are probing whether a Hong Kong corporation may have helped North Korea evade sanctions.

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