Did Iran pay DPRK for arms via Seoul bank branch?

The Choson Ilbo reports:

The [Wikileaks] cables say that North Korea received the arms payments through the Seoul branch of Iran’s Bank Mellat and that the U.S. government urged the South Korean government to investigate the matter. According to a cable dated March 24, 2008, a company in Iran called Hong Kong Electronics wired $2.5 million in three separate payments from Parsian Bank in Iran to the Seoul branch of Bank Mellat in November of 2007. Hong Kong Electronics is a paper company owned by North Korea’s Tanchon Commercial Bank. The money was wired entirely in euros, and $1.5 million worth of the payment was then wired to accounts in China and Russia.

Following a U.S. request to investigate, the South Korean government probed the Bank Mellat branch in December 2008 but did not take any punitive measures. Washington then demanded that the branch’s assets be frozen, according to a cable dated May 12, 2009.

The Iranians deny the accusations.  According to the Joongang Ilbo:

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast rejected allegations that Iran transferred a large sum of money via the Seoul branch of Iran’s Bank Mellat to buy North Korean arms.

In an exclusive interview with the JoongAng Ilbo on Friday at the Iranian Embassy in Seoul, Mehmanparast stressed that Bank Mellat’s Seoul office ran its business “under the supervision of South Korean financial authorities.”

Iran’s new ambassador to South Korea, Ahmad Masoumifar, sat in on the interview.

Mehmanparast was in Seoul with seven Iranian journalists to improve relations with the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The South Korean government in September slapped tough sanctions on Iran for its nuclear program, with penalties including the suspension of virtually all financial activities at the Seoul branch of Iran’s Bank Mellat.

The South Korean government said its actions complied with United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Q. Cables released by WikiLeaks suggested that North Korea likely received payment for weapons sold to Iran through Bank Mellat’s Seoul Branch.

A. I think there’s someone behind the allegations in regard to Wikileaks’ information on Iran. Bank Mellat operates abiding South Korean law. There’s nothing wrong with the bank. We do maintain diplomatic ties with the North Korean government. But Iran doesn’t damage (diplomatic) relations with one country for the sake of relations with another country.

Q. What about allegations that Iran and North Korea are cooperating on nuclear technology?

A. Iran and North Korea aren’t in a military alliance. Frankly speaking, when it comes to nuclear weapons, Iran doesn’t need other countries’ assistance.

Iran’s young scientists are in the process of successfully developing technology to use nuclear power in a peaceful manner.

Q. What’s Iran’s official position on North Korea’s attacks on the South Korean warship Cheonan and Yeonpyeong Island?

A. It was heartbreaking when I heard the news about the Yeonpyeong attack. I hope peace is maintained in Asia. I want to again stress peace through dialogue.

Q. Iran is an oil rich country. Why does it need nuclear power?

A. The Western media also questions why Iran needs nuclear power. But when you look at the world’s latest economic trends, nuclear power is (increasingly important) when used in a peaceful way. Even the United Arab Emirates began nuclear cooperation with the South Korean government.

Crude oil will be depleted in the future. Nuclear power is an answer to that, and it’s necessary for environmental reasons, too.

Q. Former Iranian Ambassador to Korea Mohammad Reza Bakhtiari said in a previous interview with our paper that Iran won’t sit back and watch if the South Korean government joins international sanctions against Iran.

A. That’s an uncomfortable question to answer. South Korea and Iran have lots in common as Asian nations. I hope for South Korean companies’ prosperity in Iran and I also hope for the success of Iranian companies in South Korea.

I hope short-term political pressures won’t hurt our bilateral relationship.

Read the full stories here:
N.Korean Arms Payments ‘Passed Through Seoul’
Choson Ilbo
1/18/2011

‘Bank Mellat didn’t pay for arms from North Korea’
Joongang Ilbo
Chun Su-jin
1/24/2011

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