North Korea Smuggling Weapons Components, Selling Arms Abroad, Cohen Says

North Korea remains “intent” on setting up front companies to smuggle material to build weapons as well as selling arms abroad, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen said.

“North Korea remains intent on engaging in proliferation, selling arms as well as bringing in material,” Cohen said in an interview in Beijing following meetings with Chinese officials. “North Korea is aggressively pursuing the effort to establish front companies.”

Cohen’s comments come as China and North Korea, whose premier visited Beijing this week, are seeking to restart stalled talks aimed at denuclearizing the Korean peninsula. While Cohen’s trip is mostly focused on stemming Iran’s weapons proliferation and not related to those talks, his remarks underscore continued U.S. grievances against North Korea.

North Korea is constrained by United Nations sanctions from exporting or importing a wide range of arms, including missiles, artillery, and attack helicopters as well as importing luxury goods and materials that can be used to make missiles and atomic weapons.

Cohen also said that Macau, the gambling center on China’s southern coast near Hong Kong, is no longer a target of U.S. authorities after $25 million in funds at Banco Delta Asia SARL were frozen six years ago. The money, allegedly laundered by the North Korean regime, were unfrozen two years later.

“We don’t have any concerns as we sit here today with a similar type situation in Macau,” Cohen said.

On Iran

On Iran, Cohen said the international community has made “good progress” in constraining Iran’s ability to finance a nuclear weapons program.

In China and in Hong Kong, Cohen told government officials and business executives of the “importance on keeping an eye on what Iran is up to and ensuring that Iran doesn’t find a welcome entry into either of these financial sectors.”

Cohen met Chinese officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Finance, and said their response has “been quite good.”

While illicit financing to Iran may have been restrained, China’s imports of crude oil from the country have surged in recent months, according to Chinese customs figures. China imported $2.2 billion in oil from Iran in July, the highest amount in dollar terms in three years. Imports fell in August.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Forsythe in Beijing at mforsythe@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net

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