On Thursday, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned five Singaporean entities – two companies, two vessels, and one individual – for laundering North Korean money through the U.S. financial system. The Justice Department also pressed criminal charges against Tan Wee Beng, the sanctioned individual. These actions reflect the decision to continue imposing costs on North Korea and its foreign enablers even as anticipation builds for a second Trump-Kim summit in the coming months.
Treasury designated the commodities trading firm Wee Tiong (S) Pte Ltd and ship management services company WT Marine Pte Ltd, which share an address and have overlapping boards. Singapore-national Tan Wee Beng served in senior positions for both companies. Treasury designated them pursuant to Executive Order 13551, which authorizes sanctions on those “directly or indirectly engaged in money laundering, the counterfeiting of goods or currency, bulk cash smuggling narcotics trafficking, or other illicit economic activity” for North Korea.”
As a director and significant shareholder for Wee Tiong, Tan played a critical role in fulfilling “millions of dollars in commodities contracts for North Korea” as well as transferring bulk cash payments for North Koreans. Last November, Treasury specifically highlighted these types of evasion practices in a special advisory, where it shared information about how North Korea manipulates the international financial system.
Treasury sanctioned the second firm, WT Marine, where Tan is a managing director, for operating the vessels JW Jewel (IMO 9402964) and NYMEX Star (IMO 9078191), both of which engaged in illicit activity involving North Korea’s government. Treasury also sanctioned the two vessels.
Earlier this March, the UN Panel of Experts divulged the existence of an extensive Singaporean sanctions-busting network with links to North Korea dating as far back as 1997. This network’s vital node is the Singaporean company OCN (S) Pte. Ltd. In 1997, OCN opened an account with Pyongyang-based Daedong Credit-Bank, which the U.S. sanctioned in 2013. Even before the UN Panel’s report, analysts from NK Pro, an online North Korea analysis service, found that OCN invested in business ventures inside North Korea and served as a conduit for North Korea’s illegal luxury goods imports in violation of UN sanctions. OCN remains unsanctioned by both the U.S. and the UN. Overall, OCN is only one of several sanctions evaders active in Singapore.
The Singaporean government recently took action to hold some of these other sanctions evaders accountable when it charged one of its own nationals, Chong ‘Richard’ Hock Yen, for facilitating the trade of sanctioned goods on 43 occasions between 2010 and 2016. Additionally, Singapore’s foreign ministry began investigating OCN and other affiliated companies earlier this year.
Yet Singapore must not fall back and drag its feet on sanctions enforcement as it has done in the past. For example, in 2017, a Singaporean court reversed a criminal charge against Chinpo Shipping, a Singaporean company involved in illicit arms trafficking. Washington should urge Singapore and other allies to maintain all avenues of pressure on North Korea to push it toward fully verified denuclearization.