US charges North Koreans, Chinese in $2.5b sanctions-busting scheme

WASHINGTON — The US government charged 28 North Korean and five Chinese individuals with facilitating more than $2.5 billion in illegal payments for Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and missile program as part of a clandestine global network operating from countries including China, Russia, Libya, and Thailand.

In a 50-page federal indictment unsealed Thursday in Washington, the Justice Department accused the individuals of acting as agents of North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank in what officials say is the largest North Korean sanctions violations case charged by the United States.

Working for the FTB — which is North Korea’s primary foreign currency bank and under sanctions for facilitating nuclear proliferation — the agents allegedly set up more than 250 front companies and covert bank branches around the world to mask payments transiting the US financial system, including through several Chinese banks and for equipment from Chinese telecommunications giants Huawei Technologies Co. and ZTE Corp., according to charging documents.


Those charged include two former FTB presidents, Ko Chol Man and Kim Song Ui; two former co-vice presidents, Han Ung and Ri Jong Nam; and Han Ki Song, who allegedly who operated FTB’s covert branch in Thailand and served as a member of North Korea’s primary intelligence agency.

The massive enforcement action occurred as United Nations specialists have detailed North Korea’s widespread evasion of sanctions by using agents of state-owned and other banks overseas.