Chinese, North Korean individuals charged in scheme to illegally divert funds to Pyongyang nuclear program

Chinese, North Korean individuals charged in scheme to illegally divert funds to Pyongyang nuclear program

The Justice Department on Thursday filed charges against more than two dozen Chinese and North Korean individuals in an alleged scheme to divert more than $2.5 billion in illegal funds for North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

The Justice Department (DOJ) charged 28 North Koreans and five Chinese nationals — some of whom were executives of North Korea’s state-owned bank, Foreign Trade Bank, which was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2013 and cut off from the U.S. financial system.

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According to the indictment, obtained by Fox News, the individuals, including bank officials, allegedly set up branches around the world — including in Thailand, Russia and Kuwait — and used 250 front companies to process U.S. dollar payments to further the country’s nuclear proliferation program. One of the bank officials had previously served in North Korea’s primary intelligence bureau.

Further, the Justice Department is accusing China of helping to facilitate the illegal banking transactions through government-controlled telecom companies.

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“Through this indictment, the United States has signified its commitment to hampering North Korea’s ability to illegally access the U.S. financial system and limit its ability to use proceeds from illicit actions to enhance its illegal WMD and ballistic missile programs,” acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Michael Sherwin said in a statement Thursday.

The U.S., according to the indictment, has seized nearly $63 million from the scheme since 2015.

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The indictment charges the individuals with conspiracy, two counts of violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, bank fraud and international money laundering.

The case, which was filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., is believed to be the largest criminal enforcement action ever brought against North Korea.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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