Shipping firm that remitted funds for arms shipment to North Korea cleared of one charge

The High Court have cleared shipping company Chinpo of the charge of transferring assets that could be used to contribute to North Korea's nuclear weapons programme. ST GRAPHICS

SINGAPORE - A Singapore shipping company, which transferred US$72,017 (S$103,000) 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.

This, after the High Court on Friday (May 12) partially allowed an appeal by Chinpo Shipping and cleared the firm of transferring assets that could be used to contribute to North Korea's nuclear weapons programme.

Chinpo, which has been shipping agents for North Korean ship owners and operators for more than 30 years, 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, and ammunition and other military gear, hidden in the cargo hold under 10,500 tonnes of sugar.

The shipment constituted the biggest arms shipment to be intercepted on the way to or from North Korea.

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

Separately, between April 2009 and July 2013, Chinpo had 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 for one charge, under the United Nations (Sanctions - Democratic People's Republic of Korea) Regulations, that prohibit the transfer of financial assets 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 against conviction and sentence.

On Friday, Justice See Kee Oon cleared Chinpo of the first charge.

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

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

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