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View more articles by Dagyum Ji
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
Washington has filed an amended complaint to confiscate an additional USD$500,000 from a sanctioned Chinese coal company accused of financial links to North Korea, the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia announced on Thursday.
The suit comes five months after the U.S. first filed a suit against the China-based Dandong Chengtai Trading Co. Ltd (also known as Dandong Zhicheng Metallic Material Co., Ltd.) to forfeit USD$4,083,935 in August last year.
The company and its owner are accused of laundering U.S. dollars as financial facilitators for North Korean entities linked to the country’s nuclear and missile program.
“Today’s amended complaints adds $500,000 seized from an EB-5 visa investment account,” U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu, Jeffrey S. Sallet, and Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Chicago Field Office said in a statement on Thursday.
“The EB-5 visa program provides a method for eligible immigrant investors to become lawful permanent residents (i.e., “green card holders”) by investing at least $500,000 to finance a business in a targeted employment area in the United States that will employ at least 10 American workers.”
The amended complaint alleges that owner Chi Yupeng and his wife “directed” 12 different individuals to make 12 wire transfers into a U.S. bank account controlled by a relative between November 5 and 13 in 2015.
The total amount of remittance came to approximately USD$568,405, with transfers ranging from between USD$31,335 and USD$50,000, in what the U.S. government alleges was part of a “scheme to circumvent Chinese capital outflow rules.”
Chin and his wife then transferred the money into an EB-5 investment program account.
U.S. Department of the Treasury blacklisted Dandong Zhicheng Metallic Material in August 2017 for its connections to Pyongyang’s development of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
Chi, a Chinese national and chairman and majority owner of the company, was sanctioned pursuant to E.O. 13722 for using “a network of companies to engage in bulk purchases, wire transfers, and other transactions on behalf of North Korean interests.”
The company was sanctioned along with two other Chinese coal companies – JinHou International Holding Co., Ltd., and Dandong Tianfu Trade Co., Ltd. – which have allegedly “sold, supplied, transferred, or purchased coal or metal, directly or indirectly, from North Korea.”
The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) said the company had used foreign currency obtained “from the end users of North coal” to purchase items which included components for nuclear weapons and missiles for North Korea.
Zhicheng worked with entities blacklisted by the OFAC, including Koryo Credit Development Bank and the Korea Ocean Shipping Agency, and specialized in the import, export, and transport of steel and anthracite coal.
The amended suit comes a day after the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned 16 individuals, nine entities, and six vessels, with 12 of the individuals identified as China-based North Koreans for links to Pyongyang’s WMD programmes and involvement in military-related sales.
“The amended complaint shows that the Department of Justice is focused on seizing the assets of Chinese nationals who facilitate North Korea’s sanctions evasion,” Anthony Ruggiero, Senior Fellow at Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told NK News.
“It is a message to Chinese firms, individuals, and especially banks that they should investigate transactions, especially those in U.S. dollars, to comply with U.S. law.”
The announcement comes as Sigal Mandelker, the Treasury Department’s Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, visits Seoul as part of the first leg of an Asia trip.
Mandelker on Thursday held a closed-door briefing with South Korean Vice Minister of Unification Chun Hae-sung and Lee Do-hoon, Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs at Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA).
The Ministry of Unification (MOU) on Friday said Chun and Mandelker discussed issues of mutual interest “including inter-Korean relations and the preparations for the PyeongChang Olympics.”
“Our side provided an explanation about the U.S. concerns and the U.S. side said they hoped for the successful hosting of the PyeongChang Olympics,” MOU deputy spokesperson Eugene Lee told media during a regular news briefing.
Lee also denied media reports that Mandelker had suddenly canceled a planned news conference in consultation with the South, saying the cancelation was instead a U.S. decision.
The MOFA on Thursday said Lee and Mandelker held an “in-depth discussion” over sanctions against the DPRK, but declined to immediately confirm Mandelker’s itinerary in Seoul when contacted by NK News on Friday.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: NK News