U.S. Accuses Singapore Trader of Laundering North Korea Funds

(Bloomberg) -- U.S. prosecutors unveiled charges Thursday against a Singapore man for allegedly moving millions of dollars in transactions through the U.S. financial system on behalf of North Korea in violation of American economic sanctions.

Tan Wee Beng allegedly used his commodity trading company to finance shipments of goods to North Korea and laundered money to conceal the nature of the transactions. The charges came in a previously sealed indictment that was made public in tandem with sanctions against Beng by the Treasury Department.

Treasury’s action included the Singaporean trading house Wee Tiong PTE Ltd. Wee Tiong bills itself as one of the largest privately owned trading houses in Asia, trading in marine fuel, rice and sugar. Beng, 41, is listed on its website as a director.

A representative of the company couldn’t be reached after the charges were announced, when it was almost midnight in Singapore.

Beng is charged with bank fraud, money laundering and sanctions violations. The government considers him a fugitive and hopes to bring him to the U.S. to stand trial.

The case marks an extension of enforcement efforts against North Korea’s financial and trading network as the U.S. seeks to economically isolate the country and pressure it into an agreement to arrest its nuclear ambitions. In the last year, Treasury and United Nations authorities have blacklisted dozens of ships that carry fuel, food and commodities to and from North Korea, as well as a Chinese bank that was facilitating cross-border payments.

Beginning in 2008 under President George W. Bush, the U.S. issued a series of executive orders deeming North Korea a national security threat and laying the groundwork for economic sanctions to blockade the country in response to its efforts to build a nuclear arsenal.

Prosecutors with the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan allege that Beng, dating back to 2011, used his Singapore-based trading firm and front companies in Thailand and Hong Kong to enable Daedong Credit Bank -- a North Korean Bank blacklisted by the Treasury Department and the U.N. -- to evade prohibitions on North Korean access to the U.S. financial system. Beng allegedly conducted transactions on Daedong’s behalf, laundered money for the bank and paid for the shipment of goods to North Korea.

The indictment said Daedong made a $380,000 payment to the trading firm through a Hong Kong front company in October 2016 that ran through a correspondent account at a U.S. bank. The charges didn’t specify the total value of transactions in the case.

The Treasury’s action Thursday also included WT Marine PTE Ltd., a marine fleet operating firm related to Wee Tiong PTE, and two Singapore-flagged vessels, the JW Jewel and the Nymex Star. The Jewel, an oil products tanker, was off the coast of Singapore on Thursday, according to Bloomberg ship-tracking data. There was no information available about the Star.

The case is U.S. v. Beng, 18-cr-144, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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