A Singapore-based shipping firm blacklisted by the United States government for allegedly supporting illicit arms shipments to North Korea has strongly denied the allegations and vowed to clear its name.
Senat Shipping and Trading said yesterday that it had "for many years chartered North Korean vessels to operate on the global spot market" but they were all legitimate commercial transactions.
"Senat wishes to stress that all its dealings were legal and involved commercial shipments of commodities, on behalf of international commodity traders. These transactions have always been transparent and can survive any form of scrutiny," it said in a statement.
In imposing sanctions on Senat and its president Leonard Lai on Thursday, the US Treasury Department alleged that the company was providing "extensive support" to Ocean Maritime Management Company (OMMC), a North Korean firm already under sanctions.
The blacklist freezes any US assets held by Senat and Mr Lai, and prohibits US citizens from conducting any transactions with them.
A ship operated by OMMC, Chong Chon Gang, was seized in July 2013 near the Panama Canal carrying undeclared Soviet-era weapons and fighter jets under thousands of sugar sacks.
The cargo, which came from Cuba, was intended for North Korea.
On Thursday, the US Treasury Department said Senat provides support to OMMC by "arranging the purchase, repair, certification, and crewing" of ships for the North Korean firm.
Mr Adam Szubin, the US Treasury's Acting Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said: "Arms shipments transported by OMMC serve as a key resource for North Korea's ongoing proliferation activities. Sales from these shipments contribute to North Korea's other illicit programmes."
Senat, in its statement, said it had chartered Chong Chon Gang on a regular basis but said it was not the charterer at the time the vessel was intercepted in Panama.
OMMC was blacklisted by the United Nations after the ship was seized, and Senat said Chinpo Shipping, a Singapore-registered firm that had acted as the agent for the vessel, was prosecuted by the Singapore authorities at the time.
Senat said it "strongly refutes these groundless and unwarranted allegations" and that it was in the process of contacting the US Treasury Department to explain its position.