Archive for the ‘Finance’ Category

China closes more RMB bank accounts linked to North Korea

Monday, September 11th, 2017

UPDATE 2 (2017-9-12): According to the Global Times/Reuters (PR China):

Large State banks halt services for North Korean clients, tellers say

The big four Chinese State-owned banks have stopped providing financial services to new North Korean clients, according to branch staff, amid US concerns that the Chinese government has not been tough enough over North Korea’s repeated nuclear tests.

Tensions between the US and North Korea have increased after the sixth nuclear test conducted by Pyongyang on September 3 prompted the United Nations Security Council to impose further sanctions on Tuesday.

Chinese banks have come under scrutiny for their role as a conduit for funds flowing to and from North Korea.

China Construction Bank (CCB) has “completely prohibited business with North Korea,” said a bank teller at a branch in Northeast China’s Liaoning Province. The ban started on August 28, the teller said.

A person answering the customer hotline at the world’s largest lender, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), said the bank had stopped opening accounts for North Koreans and Iranians since July 16. The person did not explain why or answer further questions.

The measures taken by the largest Chinese banks began as early as the end of last year, when the city branch of Bank of China (BOC) in Dandong, Liaoning Province, which borders North Korea, stopped allowing North Koreans to open individual or business accounts, said a BOC bank teller who declined to be identified.

Existing North Korean account holders could not deposit or remove money from their accounts, the BOC teller said.

At Agricultural Bank of China (ABC), a teller at a branch in Dandong said North Koreans could not open accounts. The teller did not provide further details.

Official representatives for BOC, ICBC, CCB and ABC could not be reached for comment.

Banks in Dandong have been under the microscope as tensions have risen, given the city’s proximity to North Korea.

In June, the US accused the Bank of Dandong, a small lender, of laundering money for North Korea.

Attempts to slowly choke off the flow of funds to and from North Korea come after the US imposed sanctions on a Chinese industrial machinery wholesaler that it said was acting on behalf of a Pyongyang bank already covered by UN sanctions for supporting the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

UPDATE 1 (2017-9-11): According to the Financial Times:

China’s biggest banks have banned North Koreans from opening new accounts in an unprecedented move to clamp down on financial flows with the country’s unruly neighbour.

Multiple bank branches, including those of the country’s top four lenders, told the Financial Times they had imposed a freeze on new accounts for North Korean people and companies. Some are going even further, saying they are “cleaning out” existing accounts held by North Koreans by forbidding new deposits.

Banks implementing a ban on new accounts include the country’s big five — Bank of China, China Construction Bank, Agricultural Bank of China, and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and Bank of Communications.

Branches of each of these banks in China’s north-eastern border towns, where trade with North Korea is concentrated, said they had been instructed to stop opening new bank accounts for North Korean individuals or companies.

Branches of three of the banks said they were in the process of cleaning out existing accounts, while the remainder did not comment on procedures for existing accounts.

Although some bank branches said they had received notice of the freeze on North Korean accounts last month, others said they had been told as early as January.

“Branches didn’t implement the rule all at the same time but it started recently,” said one branch of ABC in Dandong, the border city through which roughly 70 per cent of China’s trade with North Korea flows.

“Current bank accounts held by North Koreans should be cleared out,” said a representative of a branch of ICBC in Yanji, the trading hub closest to the nuclear blast site at Punggye-ri. “We implemented the restrictions long before last month’s sanctions.”

However, traders pointed out that there were ways to get around the account ban to continue doing legal business with North Korea.

“We always use Chinese citizens living in North Korea as intermediaries when doing business,” said one groceries trader in Dandong who wished to remain anonymous because of the political sensitivity around North Korean trade.

“There’d be no reason to freeze Chinese nationals’ accounts, unless they’re sanctioning individuals,” he added.

Two Chinese businesspeople who run companies in North Korea — one of whom is based in the Chinese border town of Hunchun and one in Pyongyang — said all their transactions, such as payments to North Korean staff, were made in cash in Chinese renminbi, avoiding the need to have dealings between North Korean and Chinese banks.

Read the fulls story here:
China’s biggest banks ban new North Korean accounts
Financial Times
Yuan Yang and Xinning Liu
2017-9-11

Here is additional coverage in the BBC.

ORIGINAL POST (2017-9-9): Daily NK reports that Beijing orders banks to close accounts for North Koreans:

Chinese banks have reportedly banned North Koreans living in China from opening up new accounts, and have ordered existing accounts to be closed.
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“The Chinese authorities have made no distinction between North Korean consular officials, laborers, or traders; all are banned from opening accounts,” a local source reported to Daily NK. “Previously, the banks were happy to open accounts for North Koreans living in China for personal reasons (mostly visiting relatives), provided they present their personal identity documents. This practice has ended as well.”

According to the source, the new order applies to the four major state banks, as well as the Construction Bank of China, and regional private banks such as Pudong Bank.

The new measures do not come without precedent. After North Korea’s third nuclear test, China implemented a provision of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2094 that involved suspension of a deal with North Korea’s Joson Trade Bank. However, the UN resolution did not address individual accounts.

Following this, the North Korean authorities began circumventing international financial sanctions by opening accounts in individuals’ names and remitting investment capital and commercial payments to and from Chinese companies.

Because the bank accounts of North Koreans residing in China are being closed, North Korean laborers are having difficulties remitting money back home.

“Under the old system, the monthly wages of North Koreans working in Chinese factories were transmitted through the bank account of the North Korean factory manager. This is no longer possible, so they are being paid in cash,” the source explained.

Also relevant to the measure is that North Korean-Chinese collaborative ventures have been banned from using bank accounts, so seed money is now required in cash.

“Normally, when North Korean merchants want to start a new business in China, they make a business plan and submit it to Pyongyang. Upon approval, they seek out cooperation and investment from Chinese investors. But now, even if the investment request is approved, it isn’t possible to open a bank account so the investor needs to use a third party to provide cash directly,” the source said.

A March 2017 Radio Free Asia (RFA) investigation reported a similar trend, noting, “Private Chinese banks are beginning to close bank accounts held by North Korean nationals. North Korean laborers earning foreign currency in China have been issued an emergency alert.”

The Chinese Ministry of Commerce announced on August 25th that it is banning new joint ventures with North Koreans in China and additional investments.

“The Chinese government is publicly announcing that they are banning business projects with North Koreans and closing North Korean bank accounts, but many loopholes remain in place. Money can be laundered on the North Korean side and passed through Southeast Asian nations,” a separate source in China with knowledge of the matter said.

Read the full story here:
Beijing orders banks to close accounts for North Koreans
Daily NK
2017-9-9

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US government seizes millions from big banks though to have dealt with North Korea

Thursday, July 6th, 2017

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Reuters reports:

U.S. authorities have tried to seize millions of dollars associated with several companies that deal with North Korea, including the country’s military, from eight large international banks, according to court filings made public on Thursday.

The effort was revealed two days after North Korea tested a long-range missile capable of reaching Alaska, ratcheting up tensions with the United States and adding to worries about North Korea leader Kim Jong-un’s nuclear weapons plans.

Thursday’s filings show that Chief Judge Beryl Howell of the federal court in Washington, D.C. on May 22 granted U.S. prosecutors’ applications for “damming” seizure warrants against Bank of America Corp (BAC.N), Bank of New York Mellon Corp (BK.N), Citigroup Inc (C.N), Deutsche Bank AG (DBKGn.DE), HSBC Holdings Plc (HSBA.L), JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N), Standard Chartered Plc (STAN.L) and Wells Fargo & Co (WFC.N).

Prosecutors believe the banks have processed more than $700 million of “prohibited” transactions on behalf of entities tied to North Korea since 2009, including the period after Donald Trump was elected U.S. president, the filings show.

Some of the transactions were processed for Dandong Zhicheng Metallic Material Co and four affiliated “front” companies that prosecutors said tried to evade sanctions through transactions that would benefit North Korean entities, “including the North Korea military and North Korea weapons programs,” according to the filings.

The filings did not say any of the banks knowingly violated sanctions against North Korea.

In her decision, Howell authorized warrants requiring the eight banks to accept incoming transactions but not allow outgoing transactions involving the five companies for 14 days, and thereafter to seize what they collected.

Full article:
U.S. seeks funds tied to North Korea from eight big banks
Jonathan Stempel
Reuters
2017-07-06

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North Korea’s ICBM-test, Byungjin and the economic logic

Tuesday, July 4th, 2017

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

At 3:30PM GMT+9 on Tuesday July 4th, North Korean television announced that the country had successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile earlier in the day. Wall Street Journal:

The missile, identified as the Hwasong-14, was launched at a steep trajectory and flew 933 kilometers (580 miles), reaching an altitude of 2,802 kilometers, according to North Korean state television. The numbers are in line with analyses from U.S., South Korean and Japanese military authorities.

US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, later confirmed that the launched missile was an intercontinental ballistic one.

Here in Seoul, things seemed to continue on as usual, which tends to be the case in this city more than used to its fair share of similar news. The biggest strategic consequence, of course, is that for the US. A successful intercontinental ballistic missile of this sortcould potentially strike anywhere in Alaska.

With the latest launch, North Korea takes one step further along the nuclear side of the Byungjin lineof parallel development of nuclear weapons and the national economy, and arguably, one step back on the economic side of the dual-track policy. In the formulation of the Byungjin line, of course, both are interrelated. Missile launches are often described as evidence of progress in industry and science, ultimately benefitting economic progress. This launch was no exception. From KCNA:s statement yesterday, July 4th 2017 (my emphasis):

The success in the test-fire of inter-continental ballistic rocket Hwasong-14, final gate to rounding off the state nuclear force, at just one go is a powerful manifestation of the invincible state might and the tremendous capability of the self-reliant national defence industry of Juche Korea that has advanced at a remarkably rapid pace under the great Workers’ Party of Korea’s new line on the simultaneous development of the two fronts, and a great auspicious event to be specially recorded in the history of the DPRK which has long craved for powerful defence capabilities.

This launch happened in a context where North Korea is already under sanctions designed to strike at its coal exports, one of its most important sources of income, and where the US has just signaled its resolve to go after North Korea’s financial channels through secondary sanctions of Chinese entities. At the same time, Kim Jong-un’s tenure has very much come to be associated with some economic progress (albeit from a low level, and primarily benefitting the relatively privileged classes), symbolized by projects such as the recently opened Ryomyong street.

It is not yet clear what the consequences will be. The US will likely try to add more sanctions targeted against specific entities and persons that help North Korea evade sanctions, and acquire equipment for its nuclear and missile programs.

The US will probably also call for international sanctions, but as Chad O’Carroll points out, the US may have a hard time getting such measures through in a quick manner given its currently tense relationships with both Moscow and Beijing. The US may also further push Beijing to implement the already existing sanctions against North Korea, but nothing appears to have changed with the claimed ICBM-test that would fundamentally alter China’s strategic calculations in the region. In other words, it continues to regard North Korea as a buffer between itself and US forces in the region, and as a geopolitical asset.

Whatever happens, it is safe to assume that it will not be good news for North Korea’s international ties in diplomacy, trade, finance, you name it. It would be easy to assume that economic progress and nuclear weapons development are mutually exclusive, since the second leads to further international isolation and economic sanctions, and therefore hampers the first.

In reality, that may be true. The North Korean Byungjin narrative, that weapons developmenthelpseconomic progress, is difficult to swallow, especially when one considers the opportunity cost that the weapons programs carry, both in terms of domestic resource dedication and the cost in international isolation.

But there is another way to look at it. Whatever the actual consequences will turn out to be, North Korea is making a strategic calculation that the gains from the test, and from overall nuclear weapons and missiles development, will be greater than the potential costs and downsides. Consider the following two factors:

First, North Korea has made economic progress in the past few years, and particularly since Kim Jong-un came to power, even under years of severe sanctions. North Korea has been under various forms of UN Security Council sanctions since its first nuclear test in 2006. During these years, its economic development has been impacted far more by domestic policy decisions than by international developments.

Again, we are absolutely not talking about any growth miracle, and some probably exaggerate the degree of the wealth increase in North Korea over the past few years. But without a doubt, North Korea is far better off now than it was eleven years ago, and worlds apart from the famine of the 1990s. Food insecurity prevails in North Korea but the country has not seen widespread starvation since the late 1990s, and largely thanks to better economic frameworks (or rather less predatory), and increased space for private production and trade within the economic system, things are looking much better today than in many years.

Just look at this video recently published by the Daily NK, from Chongjin, one of North Korea’s largest cities in its northeast. Is this long-term, sustainable growth that will eventually lead North Koreans to enjoy the same prosperity as their counterparts in South Korea or even China? Probably not. But at least it’s something.

Second, and relatedly, North Korea likely has a significant amount of channels for trade and various transactions that are not commonly known, but that play highly significant roles for the economy. For example, consider the information that Ri Jong Ho, a former official in North Korea’s Office 39, supplied in a recent interview with Kyodo News. Ri claims that North Korea procures up to 300,000 tons of fuel and various oil products from Russia each year, through dealers based in Singapore. As a point of comparison, a commonly cited figure for crude oil supplies from China is 520,ooo tons per year. Proportionately, then, 300,000 tons is not close to a majority, but still a significant amount for North Korea. While intelligence services or others with access to classified information may have known this already, Ri’s claims, if true (they have not and in all likelihood cannot be fully corroborated),

The point here is that North Korea has gotten so used to going through back channels and unconventional means to acquire highly significant amounts of supplies required for its society to function. It is an economic system where unconventional (and often illicit) channels of trade are not exceptions, but core parts of the economic management toolbox. This is not to argue that sanctions do not or cannot work. Rather, it shows the extent to which unconventional methods are institutionalized within economic management in North Korea.

The North Korean government is no monolith, and there are almost certainly some parts of the governing apparatus that are more and less pleased with the ICBM-test. But in the higher echelons of the leadership, the strategic calculation is probably that even with the added sanctions that are very likely to come, North Korea will be able to continue along roughly the same economic strategies as it has thus far. Perhaps we can call it North Korea’s own “strategic patience”: continuing with patchwork strategies for international economic relations, with little concern for the impact of lack of sustainable growth on people’s livelihoods, while banking on eventual recognition as a nuclear power. Only time will tell whether targeted secondary sanctions will change that calculation.

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UK freezes KNIC assets

Monday, April 24th, 2017

According to The Guardian:

The UK has frozen the assets of a North Korean company based in south-east London after claims it funnelled cash to Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme.

The Korea National Insurance Corporation (KNIC) is registered at a property in Blackheath. The EU has already imposed sanctions against the company, which it describes as “generating substantial foreign exchange revenue which is used to support the regime in North Korea”. The move by Brussels followed an UN resolution.

The EU warned: “Those resources could contribute to the DPRK’s nuclear-related, ballistic missile-related or other weapons of mass destruction-related programmes.”

The company is registered to a detached property on Kidbrooke Park Road among suburban houses in an affluent part of London. Its entry on Companies House now describes KNIC as “closed” since 6 October 2016. Accounts show that in 2014 it had total assets of 130bn North Korean won, the equivalent of £113m.

According to EU sanctions imposed in July 2015, the KNIC’s headquarters in Pyonyang is linked to Office 39 of the Korean Workers’ party. In 2010 the US Treasury described Office 39 as “a secretive branch of the government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea that provides critical support to North Korean leadership in part through engaging in illicit economic activities and managing slush funds and generating revenues for the leadership”.

A spokesman for HM Treasury said: “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.”

Through the EU regulations, the UK imposes restrictions on a range of goods from entering or leaving North Korea and imposes a travel ban and an asset freeze against people designated as engaging in or providing support for its programmes for weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles.

Under the same sanctions, the funds and economic resources have been frozen of four Hamburg-based North Koreans who ran the KNIC branch in Germany and two other regime officials who have since moved back to Pyongyang.

The Sunday Times, which first reported the freeze on the assets of the UK branch, reported that a North Korean man at the Blackheath property told it that the insurer’s main UK director, Ko Su-gil, had left Britain in September.

Read the full story here:
UK freezes assets of North Korean company based in south London
The Guardian
2017-4-23

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US tightens sanctions against DPRK’s UN diplomats

Wednesday, December 21st, 2016

According to Reuters:

The U.S. Treasury Department tightened sanctions against North Korean diplomats to the United Nations, requiring banks to get special permission before granting them accounts, the agency said in a notice posted online Tuesday.

The United States removed an exemption in the broad economic sanctions against Pyongyang that had allowed U.S. banks to service North Korean diplomats without getting specific permission from the Treasury Department Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).

Banks will now have to obtain a special license from OFAC before opening bank accounts, processing transactions or extending credit for North Korean diplomats or their family members, OFAC said. North Korea’s U.N. mission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

U.S. officials have long said North Korea uses the bank accounts of diplomats to help Pyongyang conduct business around the world, despite economic sanctions.

A U.S. intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said North Korea “seeks to alleviate its economic isolation” by bringing back currency from overseas “using all available avenues.”

For example, said another U.S. intelligence official, North Korea sells cigarettes and illegal drugs outside the country and use diplomatic packages to send the cash back home.

Washington has been ramping up economic sanctions against Pyongyang since a nuclear test and rocket launch this year, seen as provocations by the United States and its allies.

Under new U.N. sanctions adopted last month in response to North Korea’s fifth and largest nuclear test in September, countries are required to limit the number of bank accounts to one per North Korean diplomatic mission and one per diplomat.

Here is the official statement from OFAC:

Publication of Updated North Korea-related General License
12/20/2016

The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has amended General License 1 pursuant to E.O. 13722 of March 15, 2016, “Blocking Property of the Government of North Korea and the Workers’ Party of Korea, and Prohibiting Certain Transactions With Respect to North Korea.” General License 1-A no longer authorizes U.S. financial institutions to open and operate accounts for the diplomatic mission of North Korea and its employees and their families. It now requires that funds transfers to or from the mission or its employees be conducted through an account at a U.S. financial institution that has been specifically licensed by OFAC.

I am generally behind on blog posts this year and plan to catch up, including coverage of sanctions, in the next.

The Reuters story can be found here:
U.S. tightens sanctions against North Korea’s U.N. diplomats
Joel Schectman; Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols in New York
Reuters
2016-12-20

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Daesong Bank launches Kumgil Card

Friday, December 16th, 2016

Simon Cockerell of Koryo Tours has posted images of a new prepay card offered by Daesong Bank (대성은행/Taesong Bank) called “Kumgil” (금길) or “Gold Road”:

The front of the card contains the brand name, logo (a diamond?), sponsoring bank name, and the phrase “electronic payment card”. I spoke with James Pearson at Reuters about the 16 digit number, and based on his research it does not appear to be directly related to the Foreign Trade Bank (FTB). Mr. Cockerell reports on his Instagram page that the card uses the same retail payment equipment as the Narae Card (which is controlled by the FTB), so that means the two banks (Daesong and FTB) have an established clearing mechanism to settle electronic balances (Q: Are other NK banks using this same equipment/part of the same network?). FTB is supposedly the official repository of the state’s hard currency reserves for the purposes of managing foreign trade and domestic hard currency transactions for imported goods, though it apparently does not have a monopoly on individual/company hard currency accounts. Daesong Bank (Taesong) is has been linked to the KWP’s Office 39.

The back of the card reads:

주의사항 (Caution)
1. 카드앞면의 전자요소가 손상되지 않도록 주의하여주십시오.
Be careful not to damage the chip on the front of the card
2. 암호를 련속 3번 틀리게 입력하면 카드의 사용이 중지됩니다.
The card will stop working if you enter the wrong password 3 times.
3. 카드를 분실한 경우에는 즉시 카드발급지점에 알려주십시오.
If you lose the card, immediately notify the branch that issued the card.
4. 기타 제기되는 문제들은 카드발급지점에 문의하여주십시오.
For any other issue, consult the branch that issued the card.

This card is apparently for hard currency purchases only, and it was launched in early 2016. It is functionally the same as the Golden Triangle Bank Electronic Payment Card, Jonsong Electronic Payment Card, KoryoBank Electronic Payment Card, Narae Electronic Payment Card, Ryugyong Commercial Bank Electronic Payment Card, and Sowol Electronic Payment Card.

I should also mention that none of these are “debit cards” since they are not linked with a specific checking (demand) deposit. These are pre-pay cards only. These cards are essentially private digital currency issued by an established bank. The bank maintains control of the hard currency used to top off the cards, which it uses to generate income (float), while the card holder gains the convenience of not having to carry cash, which does offer some security from petty crime, but makes retail transactions more observable to security agencies.

Mr. Cockerell also posted the picture of a loyalty card for the Moran Shop (“Bar”):

He reports that “every time you spend money there it’s recorded on the card and when you reach $500 equivalent in total then there’s some free gift.”

I have written about some other loyalty programs here and here.

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North Korea’s equalizing credit system?

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Daily NK:

A deferred payment system is becoming popular in North Korea for garment production, manufacturing, and food services, wherein raw materials are provided for credit instead of cash. As marketization accelerates in North Korea, these types of private transactions are helping to build trust between finance providers and are opening the door to citizens who would otherwise not have enough money to start a business.
“Operating a restaurant near a train station or market has now become a possibility for more North Koreans than ever before, even those who are not members of the donju (newly-affluent middle class). Restaurants tend to have high profit margins and a lower risk of insolvency, which has merchants feeling more comfortable providing credit for such endeavors,” a source in Kangwon Province told Daily NK on December 2.
“As market controls are easing, suppliers are entering into intense competition with each other. Some merchants have begun to deliver restaurant supplies on credit to businesses that are performing well. In doing so, they have been able to capture larger proportions of the market.”
“This has opened up new possibilities for people with good business acumen that don’t have the capital to establish a business. Such individuals are able to acquire both a storefront and raw materials on credit. That has created more opportunities for new businesses to grow.”
Full article:
Credit system fuels new market entrants
Seol Song Ah
Daily NK
2016-12-07
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Orascom’s Ora Bank closes

Monday, December 5th, 2016

According to the Egyptian Daily News:

Orascom Telecom Media and Technology Holding will shut down Orabank, its affiliate bank in North Korea, due to US sanctions on the nation, according to an announcement on Sunday.

The company, owned by business tycoon Naguib Sawiris, added in a note to the Egyptian Exchange that shutting down the bank in Korea is a result of force majeure due to the sanctions imposed by the US Office of Foreign Assets Control on North Korea.

Orascom noted that its subsidiary in Korea will transfer all cash and liquid assets.

The company added that its subsidiary, Koryolink, will continue operating in Korea despite the sanctions.

Shortly after the banks closing was announced, Naguib Sawiris announced his resignation as CEO of OTMT . You can read the Press Release and coverage in Forbes.

According to the Chosun Ilbo:

Naguib Sawiris resigned a day after Orascom decided to shut down a branch of its affiliate bank Orabank in Pyongyang under sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council and the U.S. Treasury Department.

“Sawiris has done brisk business in the U.S. and Europe and has much of his assets in the West,” a source said. “So he has no choice but to look for an exit in the face of the sanctions.”

Sawiris has a U.S. passport and is therefore directly affected by sanctions that penalize U.S. citizens from doing business with the North, according to investigative website Finance Uncovered.

Orabank in Pyongyang is linked to Foreign Trade Bank of North Korea, which has been blacklisted by the U.S. for serving as a funnel for the regime’s nuclear weapons development.

Here are links to previous posts on cell phones, Orascom, and Ora Bank.

Here is coverage in North Korea Tech.

 

Read the full story here:
Sawiris shuts down affiliate bank in North Korea due to US sanctions
Egyptian Daily News
2016-12-4

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US Treasury “311s” North Korea

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

Here is the statement from the Treasury Department:

Treasury Takes Actions To Further Restrict North Korea’s Access to The U.S. Financial System

6/1/2016

Action Responds to the Threat that North Korea Poses to the Global Financial System; the United States Calls on International Partners to Similarly Takes Steps toward Severing Banking Relationships with the Dangerous Regime

WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced a Notice of Finding that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) is a jurisdiction of “primary money laundering concern” under Section 311 of the USA PATRIOT Act. Treasury, through its Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), also released a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) recommending a special measure to further isolate North Korea from the international financial system by prohibiting covered U.S. financial institutions from opening or maintaining correspondent accounts with North Korean financial institutions, and prohibiting the use of U.S. correspondent accounts to process transactions for North Korean financial institutions.

Section 311 gives the Secretary of the Treasury the authority to identify a foreign jurisdiction to be a primary money laundering concern. Once identified, the Secretary can require U.S. financial institutions to take appropriate countermeasures. The special measure proposed in today’s NPRM would impose the most significant measure available to the Secretary under Section 311.

“The United States, the UN Security Council, and our partners worldwide remain clear-eyed about the significant threat that North Korea poses to the global financial system. The regime is notoriously deceitful in its financial transactions in order to continue its illicit weapons programs and other destabilizing activities,” said Adam J. Szubin, Acting Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. “Today’s action is a further step toward severing banking relationships with North Korea and we expect all governments and financial authorities to do likewise pursuant to the new UN Security Council Resolution. It is essential that we all take action to prevent the regime from abusing financial institutions around the world – through their own accounts or other means.”

Reasons for This 311 Determination

Treasury is taking this action consistent with the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act, enacted on February 18, 2016, which requires Treasury to determine within 180 days whether reasonable grounds exist for concluding that North Korea is a jurisdiction of primary money laundering concern, and if so, to propose one or more special measures. In addition, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 2270 on March 2, 2016, which in part requires UN Member States to sever correspondent banking relationships with North Korean financial institutions within 90 days of the adoption of the resolution.

North Korea is proposed for action under Section 311 because (1) North Korea uses state-controlled financial institutions and front companies to conduct international financial transactions that support the proliferation and development of WMD and ballistic missiles; (2) North Korea is subject to little or no bank supervision anti-money laundering or combating the financing of terrorism (“AML/CFT”) controls; (3) North Korea has no diplomatic relationship, and thus no mutual legal assistance treaty, with the United States and does not cooperate with U.S. law enforcement and regulatory officials in obtaining information about transactions originating in or routed through or to North Korea; and (4) North Korea relies on the illicit and corrupt activity of high-level officials to support its government.

Impact of the 311 Notice of Finding and the NPRM Special Measure

While current U.S. law already generally prohibits U.S. financial institutions from engaging in both direct and indirect transactions with North Korean financial institutions, this NPRM, if finalized, would require U.S. financial institutions to implement additional due diligence measures in order to prevent North Korean banking institutions from gaining improper indirect access to U.S. correspondent accounts. While North Korea’s financial institutions do not maintain correspondent accounts with U.S. financial institutions, North Korean financial institutions frequently conduct transactions on behalf of the North Korean government and state-controlled corporations. The NPRM, if finalized, would prohibit the use of third-country banks’ U.S. correspondent accounts to process transactions for North Korean financial institutions.

Italics added for emphasis.

The “Notice of Finding” is here, and is also worth reading.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

Treasury Department officials said they are moving to ban non-U.S. banks and entities from processing dollar transactions on behalf of North Korea, an arrangement known as a U-turn, in a move to block its international trade.

China is by far Pyongyang’s largest trading partner, and Chinese firms could be caught in the crosshairs, according to current and former U.S. officials.

Zhu Haiquan, the spokesman for China’s embassy in Washington, repeated Beijing’s warnings against what it considers “unilateral sanctions taken by any country.”

He added that “we should avoid any move that may further aggravate tensions” on the Korean peninsula, and said “the unilateral sanctions must not affect and harm the legitimate rights and interests of China.”

U.S. officials were pleased that China agreed in March to support the new U.N. sanctions, which could significantly impair North Korea’s ability to generate hard currency and ship its exports.

Still, U.S. officials have voiced skepticism that Beijing would significantly punish Pyongyang, a longtime ally. China has rebuked North Korea in the past for its nuclear and missile tests, only to increase investment and trade with the country.

The issue is likely to be among the topics discussed when Messrs. Kerry and Lew meet top Chinese officials in Beijing for the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, a series of annual bilateral meetings.

According to the New York Times:

As a practical matter, that would largely affect Chinese banks, which facilitate North Korea’s financial transactions with Beijing, its largest trading partner. It could also affect some institutions in the nominally autonomous Chinese regions of Macau and Hong Kong, as well as in Singapore, where Pyongyang has often gone to hide the true nature of its banking activities, and to pay for missiles, nuclear fuel and the huge infrastructure it has built around those programs.

It is hard to assess how much the action will hurt North Korea. Such sanctions against financial institutions doing business with Iran proved effective because Tehran had billions of dollars in monthly oil and other energy exports that could be choked off; North Korea has none. Oftentimes Pyongyang deals in cash. Until a few years ago it was one of the largest counterfeiters of $100 bills. But that once-lucrative fraud was largely cut off by the redesign of the $100 bill.

Banks in the United States are already prohibited from doing business with financial institutions in North Korea. But the recommended rules would require them to perform additional due diligence to ensure they are not inadvertently transacting with North Korean financial institutions or the Pyongyang government through shell companies or other fictitious entities.

Notice of the new rules has been published by the Federal Register. Feel free to comment if you like.

Josh also writes a walk-through of how this works.

Here is information from Choson Exchange.

Troy Stangarone writes about the sanctions for KEI.

The UK also strengthened financial sanctions against the DPRK.

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Russia sanctions DPRK

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

According to the Choson Ilbo:

Russia has halted financial transactions with North Korea, and the EU has added 18 individuals and one organization to its North Korea sanctions list.

The international sanctions aim to strangle the flow of hard currency into the North’s nuclear and missile programs.

The Russian central bank last Thursday told all Russian banks to halt financial dealings with North Korean agencies, organizations and individuals on the UN Security Council sanctions list, Radio Free Asia reported.

The order said the banks must immediately freeze bonds held by sanctions targets and close accounts related to the North’s development of nuclear weapons and missiles.

A Russian presidential decree will also take effect soon to close North Korean bank branches and joint venture firms.

But Russia will continue to allow financial transactions between Russian and North Korean banks authorized by the UN.

The measures deal a blow to North Korea because the two countries have only recently increased cooperation.

Russia has been criticized for giving the North Korean regime a lot of leeway by allowing its banks to open accounts for North Korean banks and settling business with North Korea in roubles.

“What’s important is whether the international community including Russia and Switzerland will put their decisions into action,” a diplomatic source said. “If they do, the North will suffer a lot.”

A recent gasoline price hike in the North seems due to Russia’s downsizing of supplies to the North.

The EU has announced its third round of sanctions since the North’s latest nuclear test. This has brought the number of sanctions targets to 66 individuals and 42 organizations. They will be banned from entering EU countries and their assets will be frozen.

Here is coverage in the Joong Ang Ilbo:

Russia’s central bank called for a suspension of all transactions with North Korea, media outlets reported Friday, which follows Switzerland’s toughened sanctions on the regime earlier this week.

The move is in line with the strongest-ever United Nations Security Council resolution adopted in early March to penalize North Korea for its fourth nuclear test and long-range missile launch and curb its weapons of mass destruction program.

The Russian central bank was reported to have issued an order to local banks and financial institutions to suspend transactions with Pyongyang on Thursday, according to Radio Free Asia.

The order stated that transactions with Pyongyang were possible only with the permission of the United Nations.

The central bank further declared an immediate freeze on bonds held by North Korean individuals, agencies and organizations blacklisted by the UN Security Council.

Likewise, Russian financial institutions will have to close any accounts that have possible links to the North’s nuclear and missile programs.

On Wednesday, Switzerland imposed tighter sanctions on North Korea, ordering the freezing of assets held by North Koreans in the country and closure of their bank accounts as well as blocking funds owned by the North Korean government.

The Swiss government made the move to block all funds and economic resources connected with North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2270, which was adopted in March in response to Pyongyang’s nuclear test in January and a ballistic missile test in February.

This included mandatory inspections of all cargo going in and out of North Korea, a ban on exports of coal, iron and other mineral resources from the North, as well as prohibiting aviation and rocket fuel exports into the country.

Russia and China, two of the five permanent members of the 15-member Security Council, have generally defended Pyongyang’s stance in the council. They also negotiated some room for leeway in the March resolution on North Korea. How they implement the sanctions will be crucial to cutting the cash flow into Pyongyang’s WMD program.

The Swiss government extended an existing ban on exports of luxury items to include more goods and prohibited North Koreans from studying in Switzerland in higher physics or nuclear engineering.

On Thursday, the European Union expanded its sanctions against Pyongyang, adding 18 individuals and an entity it deemed related to its weapons program to its blacklist.

This brings the EU blacklist to 66 individuals and 42 entities considered to be involved with North Korea’s nuclear and missile development.

When asked about the government’s position on Russia’s sanctions, South Korean Ministry of Unification spokesman Jeong Joon-hee said in a briefing Friday, “We strongly welcome that countries around the world, including China and Russia, are actively taking part in these strong sanctions.”

Read the full story here:
Russian Central Bank Halts Dealings with N.Korea
Choson Ilbo
2016-5-23

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