The UK has frozen the assets of a North Korean insurance company in the suburbs of London that may have been generating revenue for Pyongyang’s nuclear program.
The Blackheath property was the base for the London branch of Korea National Insurance Corporation (KNIC), the only state-controlled insurance company in North Korea.
Following a UN resolution last year, the EU ruled the house should be listed and imposed sanctions for generating revenue which could be used to fund the building of weapons of mass destruction.
“KNIC, a state-owned and controlled company, is generating substantial foreign exchange revenue which could contribute to the DPRK’s [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] nuclear-related, ballistic missile-related or other weapons of mass destruction-related programmes,” the ruling said.
It added that the KNIC has links to Office 39, already punished with sanctions by the US for allegedly raising funds through illicit activities, such as opium and heroin production directed to China and South Korea.
According to the US Treasury Department, which has banned any form of business with the company, Office 39 provides “critical support to North Korean leadership in part through engaging in illicit economic activities and managing the leadership’s slush funds.”
Among the allegations is the company attempting to buy two Italian yachts worth millions of dollars for former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.
The following year, a report by the US Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute said, “the crimes organized by Office 39 are committed beyond the borders of North Korea by the regime itself, not solely for the personal enrichment of the leadership, but to prop up its armed forces and to fund its military programs.”
The company, registered to a detached property on Kidbrooke Park Road, appears on Companies House to have been closed since October 6 2016, and to have had assets totaling up to £113 million (US$145 million).
“We cannot comment on individual cases. However, the UK has fully complied and implemented the UN sanctions regime in relation to North Korea and North Korean companies,” a spokesman for HM Treasury said, according to the Guardian.
Under EU regulation, the UK imposes restrictions on North Korea’s import and export products. It also imposes travel bans and freezes assets for those who it suspects to be contributing to Pyongyang’s plans for weapons of mass destruction.
The news comes amid an ongoing standoff between the US and North Korea over their deployment of nuclear arms.
“The era of strategic patience is over,” US Vice President Mike Pence, said last week.
In January, a North Korean defector reportedly told a South Korean news agency that the regime pockets tens of millions of dollars each year through insurance fraud.
“In North Korea, there is only one state-owned insurance company, so that even if it fabricates an accident, there is no way to verify its claims,” Thae Yong-ho told Yonhap.
“After purchasing international insurance or reinsurance for state infrastructure, documents are forged [on alleged accidents], which earns the state tens of millions of dollars a year.”
The Sunday Times, the first to reveal the UK’s asset freezing of the insurance company, reported that the main director of the insurance company in the UK, Ko Su-gil, had left Britain in September.
The North Korean embassy in London did not respond to calls on Sunday, but a spokesman told the Sunday Times that there is no evidence on which to make the allegations.
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