US sanctions Singapore companies over North Korea dealings
WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States imposed sanctions Thursday on the Singapore-based director of a commodities company accused of laundering money for North Korea through the U.S. financial system.
The Department of Justice also unsealed criminal charges against the person, Tan Wee Beng, accusing him of “a multi-year scheme to violate and evade U.S. national security controls” against North Korea. Officials said he is also managing director of a marine fuels company involved in illicit economic activity with the North.
It’s the latest step by the U.S. to punish foreign companies and individuals said to have helped Pyongyang evade U.N.-mandated sanctions on its nuclear weapons program. The extra pressure comes even as President Donald Trump prepares for a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to persuade him to disarm.
“Treasury will continue to enforce and implement sanctions until that time,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a statement.
The blacklisting covers Tan himself and the two companies, Wee Tiong (S) Pte. Ltd., and WT Marine Pte. Ltd. The action blocks any assets they may have in the U.S. and generally prohibits Americans from dealing with them.
According to Treasury, Tan and at least one other individual in his company fulfilled millions of dollars in commodities contracts for North Korea dating back to 2011, and helped it avoid regulatory scrutiny. It says that at least once, when a wire payment was rejected, Tan orchestrated payment in cash, hand-delivered to a North Korean.
The indictment unsealed Thursday in the federal court of the Southern District of New York charges that Tan and at least two others used commodities businesses and front companies in Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong and elsewhere to evade prohibitions on North Korea’s access to the U.S. financial system and dealings with entities already under sanctions. Tan is also charged with bank fraud, money laundering and conspiracy to defraud the United States.
At least one of Tan’s alleged accomplices, who were not named, is expected to be brought to and arrested in the South District, the indictment says. Tan remains at large.
Calls to the Singapore office of Wee Tiong (S) Pte. Ltd went unanswered late Thursday local time.
The company’s LinkedIn profile says the company was incorporated in 1993 and is a regional importer of rice, wheat flour and sugar and has built up household brands such as Golden Royal Jewel in Singapore. It says that in 2015, the company expanded into the oil and gas industry, incorporating a new marine fuels division and recently acquiring 17 oil tankers to augment its fleet.
Companies in the wealthy city state in Southeast Asia, where North Korea has an embassy, have been previously implicated in its efforts to circumvent sanctions on banking, imports of oil and petroleum products and other business dealings.
Singapore was the venue of Trump’s first, landmark meeting with Kim in June where the two leaders agreed on the vague goal of denuclearization. There’s been little progress since then. North Korea has continued its yearlong halt in weapon tests but wants the U.S. to ease sanctions in exchange for further steps on its nuclear and missile programs.
National security adviser John Bolton said this week that Trump looks forward to meeting Kim again, probably early next year.
Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, will travel to Seoul on Monday for talks with South Korean officials on the denuclearization efforts. State Department spokesman Robert Palladino told reporters that Biegun is not expected to meet North Korean officials on the trip.
Associated Press writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.