UNITED NATIONS • North Korea violated United Nations sanctions to earn nearly US$200 million (S$261 million) in 2017 from banned commodity exports, according to a confidential report by independent UN monitors, which also accused Pyongyang of supplying weapons to Syria and Myanmar.
The report to a UN Security Council sanctions committee, seen by Reuters on Friday, said North Korea had shipped coal to ports, including those in Russia, China, South Korea, Malaysia and Vietnam, mainly using false paperwork that showed countries such as Russia and China as the source of coal, instead of North Korea.
The 15-member council has stepped up sanctions on North Korea since 2006 in a bid to choke funding for Pyongyang's nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, banning exports including coal, iron, lead, textiles and seafood, and capping imports of crude oil and refined petroleum products.
North Korea "continued to export almost all the commodities prohibited in the resolutions, generating nearly US$200 million in revenue between January and September 2017", said the report also seen by Agence France-Presse.
"The DPRK is already flouting the most recent resolutions by exploiting global oil supply chains, complicit foreign nationals, offshore company registries and the international banking system," the UN monitors wrote in the 213-page report, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
The United States led the push for tough economic sanctions after North Korea's sixth nuclear test and a series of ballistic missile launches that raised fears that the US mainland could soon be within range. Russia and China have repeatedly said they are implementing UN sanctions on North Korea.
The monitors said they had investigated ongoing ballistic missile cooperation involving Syria and Myanmar, including more than 40 previously unreported North Korean shipments between 2012 and 2017 to Syria's Scientific Studies and Research Centre, which oversees the country's chemical weapons programme.
They also inspected cargo from two North Korean shipments intercepted by unidentified countries en route to Syria. Both contained acid-resistant tiles that could cover an area equal to a large-scale industrial project, the monitors reported.
One country, which was not identified, told the monitors the seized shipments can "be used to build bricks for the interior wall of a chemical factory". Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons in 2013. But diplomats and weapons inspectors suspect Syria may have secretly maintained or developed a new chemical weapons capability.
The UN monitors also said one country, which they did not identify, reported it had evidence that Myanmar received ballistic missile systems from North Korea, along with conventional weapons, including multiple rocket launchers and surface-to-air missiles.
Myanmar's UN Ambassador Hau Do Suan said the Myanmar government "has no ongoing arms relationship, whatsoever, with North Korea" and is abiding by the UN Security Council resolutions.
Under a 2016 resolution, the Security Council capped coal exports and required countries to report any imports of North Korean coal to the council's sanctions committee. It banned all exports of coal by North Korea on Aug 5, 2017.
The panel of experts said 2018 offered a "critical window of opportunity before a potential miscalculation with disastrous implications for international peace and security".
Meanwhile, CNN said yesterday that its months-long investigation found a secret web of front companies involving North Korea and the African nation of Mozambique as well as military cooperation deals that violate sanctions.
It said it had gained access to official communications between the two sides.
Two military sources also told CNN that North Koreans have been training elite forces at a base in Mozambique for at least two years.