Singapore shipping company fined $180k for role in arms shipment to North Korea

Chinpo's shareholders, including managing director Tan, had their personal bank accounts closed.
Chinpo's shareholders, including managing director Tan, had their personal bank accounts closed.ST FILE PHOTO

S'pore shipping company transferred funds to help passage of cargo bound for North Korea from Cuba

A Singapore shipping company which transferred funds to facilitate the passage of a North Korea-bound arms shipment through the Panama Canal was fined a total of $180,000 yesterday.

Chinpo Shipping Company was fined $80,000 for transferring US$72,017 (about S$103,000) from its bank account to that of C.B. Fenton and Co, a shipping agent operating at the canal, on July 8, 2013.

Chinpo was also given the maximum fine of $100,000 for carrying on a remittance business between April 2, 2009, and July 3, 2013, without a valid licence.

The North Korea-owned and flagged cargo ship Chong Chon Gang was carrying cargo that included two MiG-21 jet fighters and anti-tank rockets, as well as SA-2 and SA-3 Russian surface-to-air missile systems and their parts.

The arms, being transported from Cuba to North Korea, were hidden in the cargo hold under 10,500 tonnes of sugar.

The 25 containers and six trailers of arms and related material weighing 474 tonnes were seized by the authorities in Panama in July 2013.

It is the biggest arms shipment to be intercepted on the way to or from North Korea.

The Chong Chon Gang was managed by North Korean firm Ocean Maritime Management (OMM), a long-time client of Chinpo. The court heard that Chinpo agreed to help send funds and make transfers for OMM, which wanted to hide the fact that the money came from a North Korean entity.

Chinpo transferred US$54,270 to pay for the passage of the ship through the Panama Canal on its way to Cuba on May 28, 2013. On July 8 that year, it transferred another US$72,017 to pay for the ship's passage back.

The company was convicted after a trial. Deputy Public Prosecutor Ang Feng Qian sought a maximum $100,000 fine to be imposed on each of the two charges.

She cited aggravating factors such as the premeditated and active evasion of United Nations and United States sanctions, concealed systematic abuse of the financial system and negative impact on Singapore's international reputation.

Chinpo's lawyer, Mr Edmond Pereira, argued that the prosecution had over-emphasised Chinpo's involvement. He said in mitigation that there was no evidence to show whether the arms and related materials had any commercial value, considering that the planes were "out of date and of vintage grade".

He said his client was not motivated by financial gain when it applied for the remittance applications. He also said that all the directors and shareholders of Chinpo, including managing director Tan Cheng Hoe, 83, had their personal accounts closed by their banks.

The case had greatly affected the lives of the directors of the company and their family.

Passing sentence, District Judge Jasvender Kaur said: "For the first charge, Singapore being a responsible member of the international community, there is strong public interest in preventing breach of UN sanctions."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 30, 2016, with the headline 'Firm fined $180k for role in arms shipment'. Print Edition | Subscribe