N. Korea kept millions at Vietnam bank

From Kyodo News:

North Korea’s Tanchon Commercial Bank, which has been identified by the United States as the primary financial facilitator of that country’s ballistic missile program, had until recently held dollar and euro accounts at Vietnam’s Military Commercial Bank, a Military Commercial Bank official said recently.

The official said millions of both dollars and euros, respectively, had been deposited in the accounts.

But the funds were hastily transferred to other banks, including a German bank, in July after the State Bank of Vietnam, the country’s central bank, acceded to a U.S. request and began checking on any North Korean accounts involved in suspicious banking transactions.

Tanchon Commercial Bank is among North Korean entities that the United States has since June last year designated as proliferators of missiles and weapons of mass destruction, or their supporters, imposing sanctions aimed at denying them access to the U.S. financial and commercial systems.

The United States is urging other members of the United Nations to identify, track and freeze financial transactions and assets of such North Korean entities as the first step in implementing a binding U.N. Security Council resolution adopted last month.

The unanimous Security Council resolution, which condemned North Korea’s ballistic missile launches in early July, requires all U.N. member nations to prevent the transfer of financial resources that could help North Korea’s missile and WMD programs.       

The U.S. Treasury Department identifies Tanchon Commercial Bank as the main financial agent for North Korea’s sales of conventional arms, ballistic missiles, and goods related to the assembly and manufacture of such weapons, which have provided Pyongyang with a significant portion of its export earnings and financially aided its own weapons development and arms-related purchases.

The Pyongyang-based bank held accounts at Macao’s Banco Delta Asia SARL, which the United States in September 2005 subjected to sanctions as a “primary money laundering concern” that had facilitated a range of North Korean illicit activities.

While it was not clear when the funds were deposited in the North Korean accounts at the Vietnam’s Military Commercial Bank, the bank official said they were transferred from a German bank and from the Bank for Foreign Trade of Vietnam, or Vietcombank.

According to sources, financial intelligence authorities of the United States, South Korea and Japan recently compiled a report on North Korea’s overseas bank accounts that singled out 23 accounts in 10 countries, including Russia, deemed suspicious. Among the total, around 10 were in Vietnamese banks.

U.S. Treasury Undersecretary Stuart Levey, responsible for terrorism and financial intelligence issues, visited Vietnam in mid-July and called for Hanoi’s cooperation in investigating and freezing the suspicious North Korean bank accounts.


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