UNITED NATIONS — A North Korean shipping company that famously tried to hide banned fighter jets under a cargo of sugar has tried to evade ensuing U.N. sanctions by renaming most of its vessels in an attempt to obscure their origins, a new report says.
The effort by Pyongyang-headquartered Ocean Maritime Management Company, Ltd. is detailed in the report by a panel of experts that monitors sanctions on North Korea. The report, obtained by The Associated Press, makes clear the challenge of keeping banned arms and luxury goods from a nuclear-armed country with a history of using front companies to duck detection.
The U.N. Security Council holds consultations Thursday on the report, which also says North Korea's government persists with its nuclear and missile programs in defiance of council resolutions.
The council last year imposed sanctions on OMM after Panama in 2013 seized a ship it operated that carried undeclared military equipment from Cuba. Panamanian authorities found two Cuban fighter jets, missiles and live munitions beneath the Chong Chon Gang's cargo of sugar.
The council's sanctions committee said that violated a U.N. arms embargo imposed in response to North Korea's nuclear and missile programs. At the time, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said that imposing a global asset freeze on OMM meant that the company would no longer be able to operate internationally.
But the new report says that in the months after the sanctions were imposed, 13 of the 14 ships controlled by OMM changed their owners and managers, "effectively erasing" the company from a database kept by the International Maritime Organization. Twelve of the ships "reportedly stayed, visited or were sighted near ports in foreign countries," and none were frozen by member states as the panel of experts recommends.
The new report explores the shipping company's global reach, using people and entities operating in at least 10 countries: Brazil, China, Egypt, Greece, Japan, Malaysia, Peru, Russia, Singapore and Thailand. The report recommends updating the sanctions list with 34 OMM entities and says all 14 vessels should be subject to sanctions.
No interdictions of the kind that Panama made in 2013 were reported in the period between Feb. 8 of last year and Feb. 5 of this year. But the new report warns that the panel of experts sees no evidence that North Korea "intends to cease prohibited activities."
The report also says diplomats, officials and trade representatives of North Korea continue to "play key roles in facilitating the trade of prohibited items, including arms and related materiel and ballistic missile-related items."
The panel of experts warns that some U.N. member states still are not implementing the council resolutions that are meant to keep North Korea from further violations.
North Korea also faces an embargo on luxury goods, but the report found that it managed to bring in luxury goods from multiple countries, including with the help of its diplomatic missions. Some items were for the country's Masik Pass luxury ski report, which opened in 2013. China told the panel of experts that the ski lift equipment it provided was acceptable because "skiing is a popular sport for people" and that ski items are not specifically prohibited.
In another case, a yacht seen alongside leader Kim Jong Un in 2013 was sourced by the panel of experts to a British manufacturer, Princess Yachts International, which the panel said did not reply to a request for more information.
The panel also said it has opened its first investigation into a case involving North Korean drones after the wreckage of three drones was found in South Korea in late 2013 and 2014. The report says the drones had been used for reconnaissance over South Korean military facilities and that the drones contained components "sourced from at least six foreign countries."
North Korea protests that the U.N. sanctions are harmful to its citizens, but the report says it has found no incidents where they "directly resulted in shortages of ... humanitarian aid." It does recommend that the sanctions committee propose exemptions for purely food, medical or other humanitarian needs.