US lays criminal charges against Chinese firm tied to N Korea nukes

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meets scientists and technicians in the field of research into nuclear weapons. Four Chinese nationals and a China-based company have been charged in the United States for evading its sanctions against North Korea's nu
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meets scientists and technicians in the field of research into nuclear weapons. Four Chinese nationals and a China-based company have been charged in the United States for evading its sanctions against North Korea's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States announced criminal charges and economic sanctions on Monday against a Chinese company, Dandong Hongxiang Industrial Development, for alleged support of North Korea's nuclear weapons programme.

The Justice Department said Dandong Hongxiang and four Chinese company officials also named in an indictment had conspired to evade US sanctions on North Korea, violated US regulations against support for designated "weapons of mass destruction proliferators," and engaged in money laundering.

The department also moved to seize 25 bank accounts controlled by Dandong Hongxiang, on grounds that they "represent property involved in money laundering." In parallel the Treasury added the company and the four officials, Ma Xiaohong, Zhou Jianshu, Hong Jinhua, and Luo Chuanxu to its sanctions blacklist, which ban American individuals or companies, including especially financial firms, from doing business with them.

US officials said Dandong Hongxiang had acted on behalf of Korea Kwangson Banking Corporation, which has already been blacklisted by the United States and United Nations for its support of North Korea's nuclear and other weapons efforts.

"The charges and forfeiture action announced today allege that defendants in China established and used shell companies around the world, surreptitiously moved money through the United States and violated the sanctions imposed on North Korea in response to, among other things, its nuclear weapons programme," said Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell in a statement.

The move came after Chinese authorities also announced they were investigating the company, which is located in Dandong city in the northeast Liaoning province, on the border with North Korea.

Liaoning's public security department said earlier this month that they have placed Dandong Hongxiang and its bosses under investigation for "serious economic crimes involved in trade activities".

According to a report released last week by the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul and C4ADS in Washington, Dandong Hongxiang logged more than US$530 million (S$720 million) in two-way trade with North Korea between 2011 and 2015.

The Justice Department said that Dandong Hongxiang had created and acquired a number of offshore front companies to process US dollar transactions through the US financial system on behalf of Korea Kwangson Banking between 2009 and 2015.