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U.S. offers $5 mln reward for arrest of Singaporean businessman helping N. Korea evade sanctions

All News 01:16 November 04, 2022

By Byun Duk-kun

WASHINGTON, Nov. 3 (Yonhap) -- The United States on Thursday announced a reward of up to US$5 million for information that leads to the arrest of a Singaporean national who is suspected of engaging in illegal transfers of oil and luxury goods to North Korea.

The Singaporean, identified as Kwek Kee Seng, is the director of a Singapore-based shipping agency who is suspected of being engaged in an "extensive scheme" to evade U.S. and U.N. Security Council sanctions on North Korea, according to Paul Houston, deputy assistant secretary and assistant director of the Diplomatic Security Service for Threat Investigation and Analysis.

Paul Houston, deputy assistant secretary and assistant director of the Diplomatic Security Service for Threat Investigation and Analysis, is seen holding a press conference at the Foreign Press Center in Washington on Nov. 3, 2022 in this captured image. (Yonhap)

Paul Houston, deputy assistant secretary and assistant director of the Diplomatic Security Service for Threat Investigation and Analysis, is seen holding a press conference at the Foreign Press Center in Washington on Nov. 3, 2022 in this captured image. (Yonhap)

"As alleged, Kwek and his co-conspirators sought to obscure their activities by conducting financial transactions through a series of shell companies based in Panama, Singapore and other locations," Houston told a press briefing organized by the Washington Foreign Press Center.

He added that Kwek is alleged to be involved in illicit ship-to-ship and direct transfers of refined petroleum products to North Korea, noting the North has violated the 500,000 barrels-per-year limit under U.N. Security Council resolutions each year.

The deputy assistant secretary of state also noted the District Court of the Southern District of New York issued a warrant for Kwek's arrest in April 2021, but that he remains at large.

Gonzalo Suarez, deputy assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, highlighted the need to disrupt North Korea's illicit activities that help fund its illegal weapons programs.

"North Korea employs a wide range of proliferation networks ... to collect revenue from overseas operations to support the WMD program, including a ballistic missile program," Suarez told the press briefing.

The announcement of the reward program follows a record number of missile launches by North Korea this year.

Pyongyang fired a number of ballistic missiles, including an intercontinental ballistic missile, on Thursday (Seoul time).

Gonzalo Suarez, deputy assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, is seen speaking during a press briefing at the Foreign Press Center in Washington on Nov. 3, 2022 in this captured image. (Yonhap)

Gonzalo Suarez, deputy assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, is seen speaking during a press briefing at the Foreign Press Center in Washington on Nov. 3, 2022 in this captured image. (Yonhap)

Suarez said the latest missile launches brought the total number of ballistic missiles fired by the North this year to "over 50."

"The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) is a country of major concern when it comes to proliferation," he said, referring to North Korea by its official name. " As many of you are likely aware, the DPRK is continuing its unprecedented pace, scale and scope of ballistic missile launches this year."

"Addressing the DPRK's unlawful weapons program is necessary to uphold the global nonproliferation regime," added Suarez.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby earlier said the North is trying to covertly deliver "a significant number" of artillery shells to Russia for use in the war in Ukraine.

"We must let proliferators know that they will be held accountable for their actions and that we will do everything we can to impede their efforts," Suarez said.

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