DOJ Targets North Koreans, Chinese for Laundering Billions for Kim’s Nuclear Program

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during the conference of the Central Military Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea in this image released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 23, 2020. (KCNA/Reuters) The Justice Department charged 28 North Koreans and five Chinese citizens with laundering over $2.5 billion in …

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during the conference of the Central Military Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea in this image released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 23, 2020. (KCNA/Reuters)

The Justice Department charged 28 North Koreans and five Chinese citizens with laundering over $2.5 billion in assets through North Korea’s state-operated foreign exchange bank to fund the government’s nuclear program, according to court documents unsealed Thursday.

The indictment, first reported by the New York Times, shows that the network funnelled money back to the North Korean state bank, the Foreign Trade Bank of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, beginning in 2013. They established covert bank branches in Thailand, Libya, Austria, Russia, Kuwait, and China, through which the group was able to set up front companies to access U.S. dollar transactions.

“The defendants and other co-conspirators concealed FTB’s involvement in U.S. dollar payments from Correspondent Banks in order to trick the banks into processing payments that the banks otherwise would not have done,” the indictment explained.

The co-defendants, four of whom are executives at the Foreign Trade Bank, were charged with conspiracy, bank fraud, money laundering and operating a criminal enterprise, though it is unlikely they will ever be apprehended.

Michael Sherwin, the acting U.S. attorney in Washington, said in a statement that the action “signaled” America’s “commitment to hampering North Korea’s ability to illegally access the U.S. financial system and limit its ability to use proceeds from illicit actions to enhance its illegal W.M.D. and ballistic missile programs.”

Negotiations between the Trump administration and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un over ending the country’s nuclear program have stalled in recent months, with North Korea ramping up its weapons tests in an attempt to convince the U.S. to make concessions. U.S. sanctions remain in place despite the increased pressure.

North Korean state media reported on Sunday that Kim vowed to implement “new policies” to boost the country’s nuclear capabilities during a meeting with military leaders.  In March, the country conducted its first ballistic missile tests of the year.

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