Director of Singapore firm denies trade links to North Korea

OCN is listed as having a Joo Chiat address, where a Malay wedding planning firm occupies most of the four-storey commercial building.
OCN is listed as having a Joo Chiat address, where a Malay wedding planning firm occupies most of the four-storey commercial building.ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

The director of a Singapore company reported to have trade links with North Korea has denied the allegations made against him.

Singaporean Leo Ng Kheng Wah, 55, and his general wholesale trade company, OCN (Singapore), were named in a report by independent website NK News last week for providing banned luxury goods for sale in Pyongyang for years.

The report, quoting multiple sources, alleged that OCN also runs two small high-end department stores in the city, selling international and Japanese brand items.

These include cosmetics, handbags, jewellery and flat-screen television sets. Such luxury items are prohibited for export or transit to North Korea under United Nations Security Council resolutions.

On the phone with The Straits Times last week, Mr Ng said the report's allegations were "all false", and denied having ever exported prohibited items to North Korea.

"I'm just a small company," said Mr Ng, who became OCN's director in 1990. "If I ever did anything illegal over these years, the Government would have looked for me."

Mr Ng said, however, that OCN was the exclusive distributor of Pokka canned drinks in North Korea between 2000 and 2012. But it stopped exports to North Korea entirely, after Japan imposed a total embargo on exports to the communist regime in 2012, he added.

NK Consulting managing director and head of NK News Chad O'Carroll said last Saturday that "we stand by our investigation and our article, which correctly identified Mr Ng as being the common director within a network, which enables the export of luxury goods to North Korea".

NK News is a subscription-only service reporting solely on North Korea, with reporters in Washington, Seoul and London.

Mr O'Carroll said his team found "a clear pattern of companies in South-east Asia being used, sometimes unwittingly, to acquire goods and items prohibited".

Multiple attempts to contact Mr Ng, OCN and its representatives to review claims and evidence had been ignored or refused, said Mr O'Carroll, who previously reported on North Korea for The Telegraph.

OCN was registered in 1988 and is listed as having a Joo Chiat Road address. The Straits Times visited the address last week but found no sign of OCN's presence.

A Malay wedding planning company, Lagun Sari, occupies most of the four-storey commercial building at the address.

According to Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority records, OCN is a shareholder of Lagun Sari. Listed among its other shareholders is a Chinese national, Mr Wang Zhi Guo.

NK News, citing documents filed with the Hong Kong Companies Registry, said Mr Wang is also a shareholder of OCN Shipping (Hong Kong) and linked to "at least three members of North Korea's overseas shipping network".

Mr Ng told ST that Mr Wang, whom he has known for over 20 years, helped with the opening of Lagun Sari in Shanghai in China many years ago, when he became a shareholder. Lagun Sari also operated a halal restaurant in Shanghai for about three years but closed it as business was poor, and rebranded itself as a Malay wedding planning company based in Singapore.

Said Mr Ng: "(Mr Wang) does go into North Korea. But he is in Lagun Sari as a partner. I don't control him and I don't think he's doing anything illegal, as far as I know."

In response to queries, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said it was aware of the allegations concerning OCN (Singapore).

An MFA spokesman, speaking on behalf of all government agencies, said no official comment could be made on specific companies and individuals, "so as not to prejudice any ongoing or future proceedings".

She declined to say if an investigation was being conducted into OCN.

The spokesman added that Singapore takes its obligations to UN Security Council resolutions seriously, and the Government would investigate any wrongdoing by individuals or entities in Singapore.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 24, 2017, with the headline 'Director of Singapore firm denies trade links to North Korea'. Print Edition | Subscribe