Only at MHI-NK News:
Singaporean at heart of NK Pro investigation charged with sanctions violations, By Chad O’Carroll and Justin Rohrlich
OCN (S) Pte Ltd and T Specialist International under scrutiny for luxury goods exports to DPRK.
A Singaporean national at the center of an NK Pro investigation last year was on Thursday charged with 161 counts relating to United Nations North Korea luxury goods sanctions, court records show.
Investigation by NK Pro – MHI-NK News‘s sister publication – throughout July and August 2017 revealed that several companies directed by Ng ‘Leo’ Kheng Wah, 55, played a role in exporting goods including high-end liquors, designer watches, perfumes, and musical instruments for sale at boutique luxury shops in Pyongyang.
At the time, Ng called the allegations “baseless” and “fake,” but at 0930 Thursday, case number SC-906704-2018—Public Prosecutor vs Ng Kheng Wah—opened in Singapore State Court.
“Ng Kheng Wah, 55, is said to have engaged in a conspiracy with general wholesale trade company T Specialist International and two others – Sherly Muliawan and Li Ik – to commit the offences,” Singapore’s Straits Times reported on Frday.
Ng is the director of several Singaporean firms, including OCN (S) Pte Ltd and T Specialist International, two companies revealed by NK Pro last year to have supplied a wide range of luxury goods to Pyongyang’s Bugsae Shop and Pothonggang Ryugyong Store.
Japanese brands for sale at the stores – forbidden by the country’s law – included Sony, Panasonic, Yamaha, Seiko, and Pokka, as well as flat-screen TVs, laptops, jewelry, and cameras on display.
Tellingly, stickers bearing the brand name ‘OCN’ could be seen on multiple products within the stores, even including on plastic bags, with the ‘T Specialist’ name also printed on several Singaporean-brand products offered for sale.
Corporate documents filed in 2016 by T Specialist reported a little over $170 million (all figures in Singapore dollars) in revenue, showing the scale of Ng’s company activities, despite the company having almost no online or physical footprint in Singapore.
“Ng currently faces 161 charges while T Specialist International faces 88,” the Straits Times elaborated surrounding the charges brought against him on Friday.
Ng was offered bail of half a million Singapore dollars and could face a five-year prison sentence, as well as fines of up to $100,000 for each charge, the Singaporean newspaper added.
Ng’s colleagues, Sherly Muliawan and North Korean national Li Ik, were also accused of engaging in the conspiracy, though no details were provided about them in court documents, the Straits Times said.
But Ng, speaking through company representatives or locally hired lawyers, repeatedly denied all charges to NK Pro journalists last year.
“Our client has complied with all applicable laws and regulations and unequivocally deny any allegations to the contrary,” Chern Yang See, the lawyer formerly representing OCN / T Specialist director Ng ‘Leo’ Kheng Wah, told NK Pro in August last year.
The United Nations Panel of Experts (PoE) in a report earlier this year recommended that the Security Council designate two associates of OCN/T Specialist as sanctions violators.
The PoE’s report not only confirmed the companies’ exports of sanctioned luxury goods to North Korea, but also shed light on OCN/T Specialist’s reported illegal financial relationships in the country, including one with a bank sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department.
“Our clients have no knowledge of the authenticity of the sale of goods in DPRK as included in your letter and no knowledge of how any such goods ended up in DPRK,” OCN representatives told the Panel of Experts.
The companies’ new law firm Edmond Pereira Law Corporation on Wednesday said that its client had not replied to a Monday-dated request by NK Pro for explanation surrounding the-then ongoing Singaporean government investigation into his activities.
Edmond Pereira Law Corporation is, notably, the same firm that was used by the Singapore-based Chinpo Shipping Company (Private) Ltd to defend against claims it had facilitated a shipment of arms to North Korea in violation of UN sanctions.
While Singaporean authorities initially fined Chinpo USD$180,000 for the case, Edmond Pereira Law Corporation was successful in eventually persuading the Singaporean High Court to overturn the charges in May last year.
Ng is being represented by a team of attorneys from the firm, including Edmond Pereira, Amardeep Singh, and former Singaporean track-and-field star Goh Chui Ling.
“Chui Ling has been involved in criminal cases, involving corruption, cheating, and even breach of international sanctions,” her bio reads on the firm’s website.
“Notably, Chui Ling assisted Mr. Edmond Pereira as he went before a three-judge High Court panel in 2017, which overturned the State Court’s decision in a high-profile criminal case involving the breach of sanctions under the United Nations (Sanctions – Democratic Republic of Korea) Regulations 2010.”
“In terms of comments, give me some time to discuss with my client,” Goh said when contacted by MHI-NK News.
Asked whether or not Singapore had ever punished individuals there for violating sanctions relating to North Korea, a Singaporean MOFA spokesperson last week provided a broad statement to NK Pro.
“Singapore takes its obligations under the United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCRs) seriously. We will not hesitate to take criminal or regulatory action against any individual or entity that breaches our laws and regulations which give effect to the UNSCRs.”
Singapore is one of the “few countries that submit detailed National Implementation Reports to the UNSC in a timely manner,” the spokesperson added, saying that it cooperates “closely with and aid the UN Panel in its investigations as far as possible.”
“We have continuously stepped up our counter-proliferation efforts,” the spokesperson continued. “Specifically for the DPRK, we have instituted a prohibition on commercially traded goods (regardless of whether they are prohibited by the UNSCRs) that are imported, exported, transhipped or brought in transit from or to the DPRK.”
Ng has been charged with abetting the violation of Section 5(1) of the United Nations Act, along with Section 109 of the Penal Code “and others,” according to legal filings.
The United Nations Act of 1992 is meant “to enable Singapore to fulfil its obligations respecting Article 41 of the Charter of the United Nations.” Article 41 allows the UN to impose sanctions.
Section 109 of Singapore law is abetment, and pertains to the “support and encouragement of others” in the commission of an offense: a crime for which individuals can be fined up to USD$500,000 and/or imprisoned for up to ten years.
Restaurant worker defection case may impede family reunions, warns DPRK media, By Dagyum Ji
Uriminzokkiri editorial says case could serve as “barrier” to improved relations
DPRK state media on Friday warned the unresolved restaurant worker defector controversy could serve as a “barrier” to upcoming reunions of families separation by the Korean War, while also denouncing South Korean President Moon Jae-in for making “presumptuous remarks” on North Korean issues.
In an editorial, the Uriminzokkiri – an outer-track outlet not typically accessible to a domestic audience – reiterated Pyongyang’s view that the purported mass defection of 12 restaurant workers in 2016 was a “plot” devised by the ROK government with the “impure purpose” of winning a then-upcoming legislative election.
The truth about the affair had been “exposed again,” the DPRK outlet claimed, citing recent coverage by South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency and comments made in a news conference last week by UN envoy Tomas Ojea Quintana.
Sunday saw Yonhap report that the South’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) had coerced Heo Kang-il, the manager of the restaurant, into kidnapping the 12 women and promised him to give him South Korean citizenship and a restaurant in Southeast Asia.In an interview, Heo told the agency that the women were promised work in a restaurant in Southeast Asia and only knew they were flying to South Korea after boarding the plane.
UN Special Rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana earlier in the month told a press conference in Seoul that he believed some of the restaurant workers had been brought to the South “without knowing that they were coming from.”“We can’t hold our vehement indignation against the anti-human misdeed of the group of traitors which misled the public opinion labeling it as defection and settlement…,” Uriminzokkiri said on Friday.
The North Korean media said the issue was a “brazen-faced behavior of South Korean officials,” attacking current Minister of Unification Cho Myoung-gyon for his recent insistence that the 12 women came to the South of their own accord.
The DPRK-run media also suggested that a planned reunion event of families separated by the Korean War may not go ahead if the issue is not resolved.“The attitude towards the citizens of the DPRK forcibly abducted by the Park Geun Hye group is the touchstone to show the South Korean authorities’ will to improve the North-South relations,” Uriminzokkiri said.
“If the issue of repatriating women citizens of the DPRK isn’t urgently resolved, a barrier can be created in the reunions of divided families and relatives between the North and the South — which have been proceeded with — and in the inter-Korean relations.”The two Koreas in June agreed to hold the reunions at Mount Kumgang between August 20 and 26 on the occasion of the country’s National Liberation Day.
Despite sanctions, multiple new construction projects emerging in Pyongyang, By Colin Zwirko
Photos and satellite imagery reveal several developments underway in DPRK capital
Through the swirl of negotiations between North Korea and its neighbors in recent months and consistent offers of a “bright new economic future” from the U.S., economic sanctions against the DPRK have not been eased and, in fact, have only been strengthened in the past year.
But despite this fact, Pyongyang has over the same period seen the emergence of multiple new major construction projects.
Many of the projects listed below either began or saw major development in the middle of last year, and have continued to see progress so far this summer. The photographs were all provided by NK News sources inside Pyongyang and were taken between May and July.
The example that stands out the most in Pyongyang is the Ryugyong Hotel, whose facade was recently upgraded with a full color LED light wall. Large curved LED screens were installed at the very top of the building in March, and later in May the lights affixed vertically between window panels were turned on for the first time.
It has been seen displaying alternating solid colors, more abstract multi-colored designs, and even animations and movie scenes. The display appeared to be having technical difficulties in early July and has been intermittently running, but mostly turned off during recent weeks, sources indicated to NK News.
Multiple construction projects are also underway surrounding the National Reunification Monument along the Tongil Highway. Satellite images suggest one site situated next to the monument is almost complete, while multiple separate sites have seen major development further south down the highway.
A review of satellite imagery shows clearing work for the newest project (West Tongil Highway project) began in March this year. But as the satellite imagery above shows, a great deal of work was done between mid-May and mid-June.
In the photograph from the ground in June shown above, the foundation and first floor of one building appear to be nearing completion. The site appears active with dozens of workers, but the purpose of the project has yet to be determined.
Work on another project on the east side of the road (East Tongil Highway project) began in 2013 but quickly fizzled out before resuming in 2015 and speeding up in mid-2017 – like many other construction projects in the city.
Construction on the complex of large buildings directly to the west of the Reunification Monument began in late 2014 but slowed in 2016. Work was accelerated in the summer of 2017 and appears to be nearing completion as of July according to the latest satellite imagery.
North Korea-linked oil tanker acquired by UK-based company, By Leo Byrne
8008-tonne Koya was formerly operated by DPRK-backed sanctions evaders
An oil tanker with ties to North Korea-linked sanctions evaders is now owned by a Chinese-owned and UK-based company, in another apparent instance of British businesses appearing in the DPRK’s networks. While the tanker was not directly implicated in oil smuggling, it was purchased at around the same time and by the same people who purchased.
A new crackdown? North Korea’s fashion police are making a comeback, By Andrei Lankov
A campaign against “Anti-Socialist Activities” suggests any reforms are taking place on shaky ground
Beginning early last year, foreign visitors to Pyongyang and other major North Korean cities began to frequently encounter a very peculiar picture – even though, admittedly, only a tiny fraction of them could only fully appreciate the meaning of what they were seeing.
At major crossroads in Pyongyang, as well as some other major cities, one could frequently notice groups of two or three women, all dressed in some kind of uniform. This outfit is generally based on the traditional Korean dress, known in South Korea as the “hanbok,” but of a rather unusual and formal color scheme: long black skirts and white blouses. At least one of these women is equipped with a large Chinese-made plastic whistle, and she also might keep a large book of instruction under her arm.
These groups of middle-aged women are the dreaded “Fashion Police” patrols or, as they are officially known in North Korea, patrol units of the Women’s Union (nyomyong kyuchaltae).Their task is to stop and interrogate all people whose dress or haircut does not agree with the officially prescribed norms – norms explained in a large book of instructions.
The bans are manifold. It is known that they include strict warnings against excessively short and revealing skirts. Trousers for women are permitted these days, but should never, ever be rolled up over the knees. Dyed hair is one of the gravest possible offenses – all hair in North Korea should be of uniform and patriotic black color, unless it has turned grey due to age.
If the patrol intercepts a misbehaving North Korean, punishment will follow. The exact type of sanction varies: from relatively small fines to short-term administrative imprisonment.
One of my contacts has complained that in recent months he has been intercepted a few times a day because of his dyed hair. It is not a great deal for this young man: even though he looks perfectly North Korean and indeed has spent most of his life in Pyongyang, he is a hwagyo – a Chinese citizen with permanent residency in North Korea – and as such, he can dress and cut his hair in any way he considers suitable.
Foreigners, including hwagyo, are exempted from such regulations. But, for a North Korean who is found guilty of such a hideous crime as dying his/her hair, the story might end with a big fine or even short period of mandatory labor.
Fashion police themselves are not a new presence on North Korean city streets: in one form or another these people have been around since at least the late 1960s, if not earlier. The government, like many communist states (and, for that matter, many religious ones as well), believes that it is its sacral duty to ensure that the citizens are dressed in a proper and morally acceptable way.
However, in the past, “fashion patrols” were quite limited in the scale of their operations. Yes, the restrictions of the Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il eras generally were even more demanding and stringent. For example, until the early 2010s, it was illegal for women to wear trousers when not at work. However, in the past, the enforcement of these regulations was remarkably lax.
Over the last few months, there have been reports about a significant strengthening of what is known as the “Eradication of Anti-Socialist Activities Campaign.” The patrols, consisting of police, party officials, and other government personnel are said to be cruising the streets in search for traces of “unhealthy” activities – such as selling smuggled goods from China.
They stage sudden inspections of small companies where private capital is invested, and they reportedly even investigate some private entrepreneurs – albeit on a small scale. Authorities have begun to pay attention to the visitors of posh restaurants which have proliferated in Pyongyang recently.
Under Kim Jong Un’s watch, North Korea has remained remarkably restrictive in the areas of politics and ideology. The new leader and his immediate entourage have been working hard to strengthen the self-isolation, which got somewhat rusty under his father’s watch, and to keep populace isolated from the outside influences.
However, at the same time, until now Kim Jong Un has proved himself to be a remarkably pro-market leader, so he has never tried to decrease neither the freedom of individuals to make money, nor their freedom to spend this money as they see fit.Current events, however, suggest that Kim Jong Un might be changing his mind.