Shipping Company Charged For Cuba-To-North-Korea Weapons Intercepted By Panama

Singapore filed criminal charges Tuesday against a shipping company implicated in a shipment of weapons to North Korea that was seized by Panamanian authorities last year.

Locally registered Chinpo Shipping Company Ltd. was charged with transferring $72,000 to a Panama shipping agent knowing that the funds could be used to contribute to the "nuclear-related, ballistic missile-related, or other weapons of mass destruction-related programs or activities" of North Korea. A Chinpo executive, Tan Hui Tin, was also charged for withholding potential electronic evidence.

The charges stem from an incident that unfolded during the second half of 2013. In July, Panama seized a ship, the Chong Chon Gang, in the Panama Canal which was headed from Cuba to North Korea. Panamanian authorities suspected that it was transporting drugs, but when they searched the vessel they found two Cuban fighter jets, missiles and live munitions hidden in a cargo of sugar.

After the seizure, Cuba said the cargo included "obsolete defensive weapons" including two MiG-21 fighter jets and 15 motors, nine missiles in parts, and two anti-aircraft systems that were being shipped to North Korea "to be repaired and returned."

However, in October, Belsio González, director of Panama's National Aeronautics and Ocean Administration, said that the fighter jets "are in operational condition and their engines are in excellent shape." The Central American nation said that the weapons violated U.N. sanctions that restrict arms trading with North Korea because of its nuclear weapons program.

In February, Panama released all but three members of the ship's crew after Chinpo paid a fine of nearly $700,000.

In March, the United Nations Security Council's sanctions committee named Chinpo as one of two companies involved in trying to ship arms to North Korea. The other was Ocean Maritime Management, a Pyongyang-based company.

Singapore's foreign ministry said authorities received information about Chinpo in January this year.

A panel of experts advising the Security Council said in its annual report on North Korea that the country's embassies, including in Singapore and Cuba, were suspected of helping to organize arms shipments to Pyongyang via complex financial methods that were "pioneered by drug-trafficking organizations."

The report said Chinpo Shipping Company was "co-located" with the North Korean Embassy in Singapore and that the shipping firm acted as the agent for Ocean Maritime Management, which operated the Chong Chon Gang.

A woman who answered the phone at Chinpo declined to comment.

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