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Hamish Macdonald is an NK News contributor and has previously worked at The Korea Herald and for the Australia Centre for Independent Journalism in Sydney.
Update at 1240 EST: This article was updated to include more comments by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The U.S. Department of the Treasury on Thursday designated two Singaporean entities, two Singaporean flagged vessels, and one national for laundering money through the U.S. financial system on behalf of North Korea.
Tan Wee Beng, Director of Wee Tiong (S) Pte Ltd and Managing Director of WT Marine Pte Ltd, was designated by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) alongside the two companies.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) also on Thursday unsealed charges against Tan for a litany of alleged crimes.
These include the “Conspiracy to Violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), Bank Fraud, Conspiracy to Commit Bank Fraud, Money Laundering; Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering and Conspiracy to Defraud the United States,” according to an FBI wanted poster.
“Tan Wee Beng and his co-conspirators made deliberate efforts to launder money through the U.S. financial system on behalf of North Korea,” Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said in a press release accompanying the designations.
“Governments, financial institutions, and other companies worldwide need to be on high alert to these types of schemes. The U.S. government will not overlook these deceptive practices,” he added.
Thursday’s designations are pursuant to Executive Order 13551 for “having, directly or indirectly, engaged in money laundering, the counterfeiting of goods or currency, bulk cash smuggling, narcotics trafficking, or other illicit economic activity that involves or supports the Government of North Korea or any senior official thereof. ”
Beng, according to OFAC, has since at least 2011 facilitated millions of dollars in commodities contracts for North Korea and “made a concerted effort to obfuscate payment origins and structure transactions to avoid regulatory scrutiny.”
The U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York also issued a press release regarding the charges unsealed on Thursday alongside the indictment.
It identified Beng as having violated U.S. law prohibiting North Korea’s access to the U.S. financial system on behalf of the long UN and U.S. sanctioned Daedong Credit Bank (DCB).
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman was quoted in the DOJ press release saying that the U.S. is currently looking to track down and hold Tan Wee Beng accountable for the alleged crimes.
“He is now a fugitive from American justice, and we look forward to working with our foreign partners to bring Beng to the U.S. to answer for his alleged crimes,” Berman said.
Beng and unnamed conspirators knew of and sought to evade sanctions against the DPRK, the press release adds.
OFAC also claims that the individual and his company – Wee Tiong (S) Pte Ltd – orchestrated the hand delivery of bulk cash to a North Korean national in one instance which occurred when a wire payment was rejected.
According to Wee Tiong’s, the company is “one of the largest privately owned” commodities trading houses in Asia and is involved in marine fuels, rice, and sugar.
Its website also lists a 17 vessel fleet and profiles the two sanctioned vessels. Beng appears prominently on the company’s website in several media clippings.
The second entity, WT Marine, is identified as being closely related to Wee Tiong. Two of WT Marine’s vessels – JW JEWEL and NYMEX STAR – are alleged by OFAC to have been engaged in “illicit economic activity” involving or supporting the North Korean Government last year.
While OFAC says the JW JEWEL is owned and operated by WT Marine, the Equasis database indicates that a company called Far East Shipping & Trading Pte Ltd took ownership of the vessel on September 26. Additionally, the same company is registered as the vessels ship and commercial manager as of October 1.
Far East Shipping is registered at Parkway Parade in Singapore, the same suburban mall identified as the address of WT Marine.