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US Offers $5M Bounty on Singapore Shipowner for North Korean Trade

reward for information on Singapore shipowner
US DOJ seized the tanker and linked the Singapore shipowner to sanction violations including oil transfers to North Korea (US Department of Justice photo)

Published Nov 4, 2022 3:27 PM by The Maritime Executive

As part of its ongoing effort to disrupt the flow of oil and other goods to North Korea, the U.S. Department of State announced it is offering a bounty of up to $5 million for information on the director of a Singapore shipping agency who they have linked to multiple violations of the sanctions on North Korea. The U.S. 18 months ago issued arrest warrants for Kwek Kee Seng, a Singaporean national, while it also moved to complete the seizure of a vessel they said he was using to make the illegal oil transfers.

The further efforts to crack down on the illegal trade come as tensions have been increasing on the Korean peninsular as North Korea undertook its most aggressive missile launches in years and is believed to be preparing a nuclear test. The North has been threatening attacks on the U.S. and South Korea as the two countries proceed with their regularly scheduled military exercises. The North sent artillery shells toward the South as well as flying airplanes close to the border and the repeated missile launches.

The Department of State announced that its Rewards for Justice program is “offering a reward of up to $5 million for information that leads to the disruption of financial mechanisms of persons engaged in certain activities that support the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.” They detailed their latest allegations linking Kwek Kee Seng and his company Swanseas Port Services in “an extensive scheme to evade U.S. and U.N. sanctions by covertly transporting fuel to the DPRK.”

 

 

In 2021, the U.S. won a judgment of forfeiture for an oil tanker used as part of a scheme. The 2,734-ton oil-products tanker, M/T Courageous, was initially seized by Cambodia in March 2020. The U.S. presented evidence showing that the tanker had been used in 2019 for ship-to-ship transfers of more than $1.5 million in oil to a North Korean ship.

Kwek and his co-conspirators are charged by the U.S. with seeking to obscure their identities and activities by conducting financial transactions through a series of shell companies. In announcing the reward for information, the U.S. alleges that Kwek Kee Seng directed payments in U.S. dollars that were routed from his shell companies based in Panama, Singapore, and elsewhere, and through U.S. banks to pay for oil, the M/T Courageous, services and materials for the vessel, and salaries for crewmembers, in violation of the sanctions on the export of financial services for the benefit of the DPRK.

The list of charges includes money laundering, the exportation of luxury goods to the DPRK, specified cyber-activity, and actions that support weapons of mass destruction proliferation.

The State Department's Rewards for Justice program said Kwek, age 62, has at different times been identified as being in North Korea, Cambodia, Taiwan, Thailand, and Cameroon, as well as Saint Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean.