Jail time for role in supplying luxury goods to N. Korea

A 32-year-old man was jailed for four weeks yesterday for his role in supplying luxury goods to a North Korean department store chain in an operation that breached United Nations sanctions.

Li Hyon, who is North Korean, pleaded guilty to four counts of engaging in a conspiracy with other people and two companies - T Specialist International and SCN Singapore - to deliver luxury goods, such as cosmetics and spirits, to North Korea, court documents stated.

Ten other similar charges were taken into consideration during sentencing by Senior District Judge Bala Reddy.

The United Nations has placed sanctions on North Korea since 2006, making it illegal to sell, among other things, luxury items to the country. Singapore has also banned the sale of these items to North Korea for several years.

Court documents state that Li's father, Li Ik, owns a department store chain in North Korea named Korean Bugsae Shop.

From November 2010 to January 2017, T Specialist International supplied luxury items worth more than $6 million to Korean Bugsae Shop. This was done via transshipment through Dalian, China.

The North Korean chain also received luxury items worth over $500,000 from SCN Singapore from December 2010 to November 2016, court documents said.

T Specialist International was fined $880,000 and its director, Ng Kheng Wah, jailed for 34 months in November last year for various offences including their involvement in the scheme. SCN Singapore's case is still pending.

The court heard yesterday that Li Hyon started helping his father to source for goods to be supplied from Singapore after completing his studies in 2014. Court documents did not state if he was paid.

He served as the contact liaison between Li Ik and the Singaporean companies between late 2014 and early 2017, when his father travelled frequently to North Korea and was not easily contactable.

Under his father's instructions, he ordered luxury goods from the companies and facilitated the payment to them, among other things. He also hand-carried luxury items to North Korea on three occasions.

From November 2010 to January 2017, T Specialist International supplied luxury items worth more than $6 million to Korean Bugsae Shop. This was done via trans-shipment through Dalian, China.

In their submissions, Deputy Public Prosecutors Grace Lim, Tham Jia Min and Charis Low said there was no evidence to suggest the luxury items or proceeds from the sale of such items were used to facilitate North Korea's nuclear weapons programme.

"However, there was appreciable harm to Singapore's international reputation and standing, and increased risk for the broader Singapore financial and economic sectors," they said.

For each of his offences, Li Hyon could be jailed for up to 10 years and fined up to $500,000.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2020, with the headline 'Jail time for role in supplying luxury goods to N. Korea'. Print Edition | Subscribe