A North Korean using a Cambodian passport was arrested last month in Hawaii after attempting to purchase U.S.-made controlled military goods from a federal agent and export them to China. The indictment tells some of the unusual tale. In April 2015, Kim Song Il posted an ad on a business-to-business website requesting three PVS-7 night vision goggles, which are standard-issue for U.S. ground forces, as well as three PVS-14 goggles, used by U.S. Special Forces. Under the International Trade in Arms Regulations (ITAR), both items are prohibited from being exported to certain countries of concern, including China and North Korea, and would require a license to export elsewhere.
Kim pursued an inquiry with the Utah-based Homeland Security agent over the course of several months. Throughout their interaction, Kim repeatedly expressed his awareness of ITAR restrictions and the illegal nature of the planned export. The indictment states that on July 15, Kim traveled to Hawaii, presumably on his Cambodian passport, and met the agent. He verified the six pairs of goggles and handed over $16,000 in cash as a partial payment. After some discussion over how to declare the goods to avoid attracting suspicions, Kim went to the U.S. Post Office, falsely labeled the parcel as toys and towels, and mailed it to China where he is ordinarily resident.
Further investigations reveal that, prior to entering the U.S., Kim had worked to establish overseas offices of a sanctioned North Korean entity. This case also highlights the continuing use of passports of convenience as a detection evasion tactic by North Korean arms traders. Nations selling their passports as means of generating revenue should ensure that North Korean arms traders cannot take advantage of them in future.
FROM CAMBODIA TO HONG KONG
Thanks to a relaxation of Cambodian law in the 1990s, naturalization is a fairly simple affair
A Cambodian Royal Decree issued on September 17, 2008 grants Cambodian nationality by naturalization to a “Kim Song Il” of “Phongyang City, People Republic of Korea” – likely the individual in question. Thanks to a relaxation of Cambodian law in the 1990s, naturalization is a fairly simple affair. Foreign nationals who have resided in Cambodia for at least seven years and speak Khmer are eligible. For the impatient or linguistically challenged, residency and an investment in the country of about $300,000, or a contribution of about $250,000 to the state budget, is all that is needed.
Kim Song Il may not have been the first North Korean to benefit from the scheme. A decree from a few months earlier gives nationality to a Kim Song Chol from “Pyoyang City” in “Korea” (South Korea is fairly consistently described in Cambodian legal updates as the “Republic of Korea,” and “Pyoyang” is likely a reference to Pyongyang). At the time of his naturalization, Kim Song Chol officially changed his name to Kim Sovann. The Cambodian corporate registry indicates that an individual named Kim Sovann recently established RichLand Global Co Ltd in Phnom Penh.
Armed with his new Cambodian passport, Kim Song Il appears to have set about opening companies as well. In May 2009, six months after a royal decree naturalized Kim Song Il, a person by the same name established a Greenpine International Co. Ltd in Hong Kong using a Cambodian passport (numbered N0630354). The company name will be familiar to many. Greenpine International is a confirmed alias of Green Pine Associated Company, an entity acting under the direction of the DPRK’s premier intelligence organization, the Reconnaissance General Bureau, and designated by the UN for engaging in arms exports to countries like Iran. Greenpine International remains a live company in Hong Kong despite the designation.
In July 2012, a Kim Song Il, using a different Cambodian passport (numbered N0755974) established Rich Lead Trading Limited at the same address as the Hong Kong branch of Greenpine International. Though it is possible that these are two separate individuals, it is highly unlikely given the matching names, passport issuing countries, and corporate addresses. A “ready-made” company with the same name was also incorporated in the British Virgin Islands three months earlier, though it is unclear whether this is connected to Rich Lead Trading Limited Hong Kong.
PASSPORTS OF CONVENIENCE
Further details about Kim Song Il’s dealings are sure to emerge as his trial proceeds in Utah in the coming months. Nevertheless, the situation has served as a reminder that North Koreans engaged in illegal activity continue to be able to secure foreign passports. In the past, countries such as the Seychelles and Kiribati have sold passports to North Koreans, who, like Kim Song Il, then used them to register companies in Hong Kong and facilitate arms-related trade. New East International Trading Ltd in Hong Kong was caught attempting to export magnetometers usable in missile guidance systems from Japan to an end user in Myanmar in 2009. When its directors first registered the company in 2000, they did so with their North Korean passports. They subsequently amended their identification documents to their Kiribati passports, and then again to new Seychelles passports.
The incident prompted those two governments to investigate their naturalization practices, and the President of Kiribati in 2013 pledged to end the practice of selling passports as a means of generating revenue for the island nation. The recent arrest of Kim Song Il should prompt Cambodia to investigate and prevent future abuse of their naturalization law by those intent on evading sanctions.
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Featured Image: handcuffs by Keith Allison on 2011-05-20 20:42:58