Arms shipment to N. Korea: S'pore firm's fine reduced

High Court clears shipping company Chinpo of one of two charges on appeal

A Singapore shipping company which transferred US$72,017 (S$101,400) to facilitate the passage of a North Korea-flagged vessel through the Panama Canal has had its fine reduced from $180,000 to $100,000.

The High Court yesterday partially allowed an appeal by Chinpo Shipping Company and cleared the firm of transferring financial resources that could be used to contribute to North Korea's nuclear weapons programme. Chinpo has acted as shipping agents for North Korean ship owners and operators for more than 30 years.

In 2005, Chinpo's boss, Mr Tan Cheng Hoe, partitioned off part of its Beach Road premises for the North Korean Embassy to use as its mailing address. He was listed as the embassy's security guard so that he could enter the partitioned area to collect mail for it.

In 2014, Chinpo was hauled to court over an arms shipment from Cuba to North Korea that was seized by the authorities in Panama on July 11, 2013. The cargo ship, Chong Chon Gang, was found with two MiG-21 jet fighters and engines, six trailers of SA-2 and SA-3 Russian surface-to-air missile systems, ammunition and other military gear hidden in the cargo hold under 10,500 tonnes of sugar. It was the biggest arms shipment to be intercepted on the way to or from North Korea.

Three days earlier, Chinpo had remitted money from its Bank of China account to C.B. Fenton and Co - a shipping agent operating at the Panama Canal - to pay the ship's transit expenses through the canal.

Separately, between April 2009 and July 2013, Chinpo made 605 remittances totalling US$40 million on behalf of North Korean entities from its bank account. It charged at least US$50 per remittance.

Last year, Chinpo was found guilty of two charges by a district court after a trial. It was fined $80,000 under the United Nations (Sanctions - Democratic People's Republic of Korea) Regulations, which prohibits the transfer of financial resources that "may reasonably be used to contribute to the nuclear-related, ballistic missile-related, or other weapons of mass destruction-related programmes or activities" of North Korea. It was also fined $100,000 for carrying on a remittance business without a valid licence.

Chinpo, represented by Mr Edmond Pereira, appealed to the High Court. Yesterday, a panel of three judges cleared it of the first charge.

Justice See Kee Oon said the transfer of money was used to pay port fees and related charges for the passage of the ship. It was not used for acquiring the arms and, hence, did not "contribute" to North Korea's nuclear weapons programme.

Although the arms had been on board the ship, this was not known to Chinpo when it remitted the money, added Justice See.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 13, 2017, with the headline 'Arms shipment to N. Korea: S'pore firm's fine reduced'. Print Edition | Subscribe