NEW YORK (REUTERS) - A Chinese company, its owner and three managers have been indicted on charges they conspired to evade US sanctions intended to stop North Korean companies from helping Pyongyang develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, the US Department of Justice said on Tuesday.
Ma Xiaohong, her company Dandong Hongxiang Industrial Development and the managers were charged by a federal grand jury in Newark, New Jersey, with sanctions violations, conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to launder money.
The indictment came nearly three years after the defendants were first charged with sanctions violations. All the individual defendants are Chinese nationals.
Prosecutors said Dandong Hongxiang, located on the border between China and North Korea, once handled more than 20 per cent of all trading volume between the countries, and used more than 20 "front" companies to conceal some of its financial dealings.
The defendants "tried to defraud the United States by evading sanctions restrictions and doing business with proliferators of weapons of mass destruction", US attorney Craig Carpenito in New Jersey said in a statement.
None of the defendants could immediately be located, and it is unclear whether they have lawyers. Mr Carpenito's office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The indictment was announced as the White House pushes to restart stalled talks aimed at ending Pyongyang's nuclear programme, after an aborted February summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
China said on Wednesday (July 24) it opposes the long-arm jurisdiction of the United States following the indictment. Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying made the remarks at a daily briefing in Beijing.
Dandong Hongxiang, an industrial machinery and equipment wholesaler, was accused of enabling the illegal sale of goods to North Korea from December 2009 to September 2015.
Prosecutors said it did this by using its front companies to hide transactions that involved Korea Kwangson Banking, a North Korean bank subject to US sanctions, from the American banking system.
According to the indictment, the front companies were established in offshore jurisdictions such as Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, Hong Kong, the Seychelles and Wales to hide Korea Kwangson's role from US "correspondent" banks, including a bank processing center in Newark.
The US Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets control imposed sanctions on Dandong Hongxiang when the charges were announced in September 2016, the first time Washington had taken such a step against a Chinese company.
Ma and the other individual defendants each face up to 20 years in prison on the most serious of the charges.