Banks balk at handling North’s ‘dirty’ money

Joong Ang Daily
Brian Lee

The messy knot of North Korean funds frozen in a Macao bank is proving difficult to untangle despite Washington’s assurances that the money will be returned to Pyongyang.
As a result, the six-party nuclear talks, which recessed Thursday over the issue, remain on hold while a solution is sought. North Korea demands that it have the money in hand before sitting down again.

South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon said yesterday that the problem of returning the $25 million in funds frozen in Macao’s Banco Delta Asia would be resolved next week and the talks would resume soon. Seoul’s top negotiator, Chun Young-woo, however, said on the same day that resolving the issue will be difficult.

“Next week we will resolve it and expect to move forward in implementation measures,” Mr Song said in a news conference.

Mr. Chun said that the Bank of China, despite pressure by the Chinese government, has refused to put the money into North Korean accounts but is working with Washington to find a way to relay the money to a bank in a third country.

A government official said yesterday that the Bank of China, which is listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, has foreign shareholders and is not willing to risk alienating itself from the international financial community by associating itself with money branded illicit by Washington.

In September 2005, Washington declared Banco Delta Asia a prime money launderer on behalf of North Korea, a move which caused the funds to be frozen.

Furious, North Korea backed away from nuclear negotiations and demanded the money back as a precondition for substantive talks. Recently, Washington agreed to the release of the funds but it has ordered all ties between the rogue bank and the U.S. financial system cut.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department said that Treasury Department official Daniel Glaser will go to Beijing soon to consult with the Bank of China on the issue.

Sources said that providing written assurances to the bank from American regulators that it would not face scrutiny over relaying the money might be one way to resolve the issue.
Mr. Chun said that finding a bank willing to accept the money is the key. “North Korea has to designate a bank in a third country,” said the official. “North Korea does not want cash.”

A government official said yesterday that Pyongyang wants contact with an overseas bank and is also unwilling to have the money wired to a North Korean bank.

“Any bank will think that there could be problems with its credit rating when dealing with money stamped illicit by Washington,” the official said. “Finding a bank to receive the money will be a difficult task.”

Mr. Chun remained cautiously optimistic. While he admitted that little progress was made in the latest round of talks, he said that from a long term perspective Pyongyang has learned a lesson that would help it understand its current position of isolation in the international community. “Even if there is the political will to resolve the issue, North Korea has seen the cold reality of the international financial world,” he said.


Comments are closed.