• Kyodo

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North Korean nationals have a “widespread presence” in Africa and the Middle East, especially in Syria, where they are involved in an array of illicit activities including trade in surface-to-air missile systems, according to a report by a U.N. panel.

“The panel is investigating reported prohibited chemical, ballistic missile and conventional arms cooperation between Syria and the DPRK including activities on Syrian Scud missile programs and maintenance and repair of Syrian surface-to-air missiles air defense systems,” the 37-page report said. It was referring to the country’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The document compiled by the eight-member panel of experts working with the U.N.’s North Korea sanctions committee is looking into the country’s designated entities and nationals linked to the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation in Syria.

Known as KOMID, the corporation is under both United Nations Security Council and U.S. sanctions, and has been tied to exporting equipment related to ballistic missiles and conventional weapons which are prohibited under past U.N. Security Council resolutions.

According to the report, two unnamed countries interdicted shipments that were bound for Syria and believed to contain goods that were part of a KOMID contract with the war-torn country.

The European Union and the United States designated the consignees as Syrian entities acting as front companies for Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center previously accused of being involved in banned transfers.

The report pointed out that the research center was accused by U.N. member states of being behind the country’s chemical weapons program.

Also cited in the report is the continuing investigation into North Korea’s reported supply of man-portable defense systems, surface-to-air missiles and radar in Africa.

This involves the North’s Haegeumgang Trading Company and a Mozambique government-controlled company, Monte Binga.

The same trading company is also suspected of repairing and upgrading Tanzania’s surface-to-air missile system. The country is also reportedly repairing its air defense radar system. The value of the contracts between the two countries totals €10.49 million.

North Korea continues to violate financial sanctions by “stationing agents abroad to execute financial transactions,” the report said, with the prohibited activities occurring under a lack of “appropriate domestic legal and regulatory frameworks,” especially in Asia.

Officials, in particular, are accused of engaging in “deceptive financial practices,” which include opening multiple bank accounts in the same or neighboring countries where they are working abroad, as well as using family members’ names and front companies.

In the investigation of family members of two Reconnaissance General Bureau agents and a Korean United Development Bank representative, whose assets were previously frozen in France, it was reported that Kim Su Gwang, an agent, opened several bank accounts in Italy in his own name.

There was a similar case involving KOMID officials for which the North Korean Embassy in South Africa set up an account using one of their names in neighboring Namibia.

“These cases exemplify how DPRK illicit networks manipulate multiple bank accounts to heighten the difficulties of detecting their activities,” the report said.

The panel of experts, established in 2009, is made up of representatives from Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — plus Japan, South Korea and South Africa.

The panel expressed concerns about the shortcomings in enforcement of the sanctions regime, which, along with the North’s evasion tactics, are seen to be “undermining the goals of the resolutions” aiming to force Pyongyang to abandon its banned activities.

North Korea is subject to multiple rounds of Security Council sanctions that were first put in place after the country’s initial underground nuclear test in 2006. Since then, the North has carried out five additional nuclear tests.

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