Pictures obtained by NK News show the former Russian branch of sanctioned DPRK shipping company Ocean Maritime Management (OMM) in a regular apartment in a nondescript building in Vladivostok.
The images show the building and apartment door, with very little to differentiate the apartment from those around it.
The office address was provided to the UN Panel of Experts (PoE) by the Russian government, who also claimed OMM had not been active in the country since 2010.
“According to Russian authorities, OMM was officially registered until 2010 at the address Lugovaya Street, Apartment 39, Vladivostok, but has not operated in the Russian Federation after 2010,” the 2015 PoE report reads.
However the PoE report also claims representatives representing OMM continued to work in Russia at least up until 2013, though probably using different company names.
OMM representatives in Russia likely played a “key role” in the case of the Chong Chon Gang, the vessel caught smuggling weapons, disassembled fighter jets and soviet era weapons systems through the Panama Canal in July the same year.
The captain of the vessel, when questioned by the Panamanian authorities, also said the ship’s operating company was based in Vladivostok.
The PoE found another company called Ocean Russia also distributed instructions to vessels controlled by Ocean Maritime Management.
When questioned by NK News, residents in the area said they had not heard of the North Korean company, nor were they aware of the apartment’s probable former occupants. No one answered the door at apartment 39.
“It is probable that OMM Vladivostok was at one time a formally registered representative office, but in practice was only ever staffed by a single or very small number of North Korean individuals. This would explain the use of a residential apartment as the registered address for the office,” Andrea Berger of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) told NK News.
“If true, those representatives may still be present and operating in Russia, despite the disappearance of their presence on paper in the corporate registries,” she added.
OMM’s name can no longer be found associated with any ships in the North Korean fleet since it was sanctioned by both the U.S. Department of Treasury and the UN in 2014.
All of the vessels previously associated with the company have also changed names, though for the most part continue sailing similar routes as before the designation.
A recent NK News report found an OMM vessel had become a regular visitor to Russia, with inspection records showing numerous visits to Poiset, a coal handling port near North Korea.
“Given the continuing and repeated passage of vessels believed to be OMM-controlled through Russian waters and ports, it is highly likely that OMM retains a Russian presence in some form,” Berger said.
The PoE report also found evidence for OMM’s presence in China, Hong Kong, Peru, Brazil and Egypt.
North Korea has in the past used networks of paper companies to facilitate transfers of illicit or embargoed items. Normally such companies are simply office addresses of corporate secretaries, as is likely the case with many numerous companies tied to North Korea in Hong Kong.
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