Blacklisted Singapore shipping firm denies arms link to North Korea

Shipping containers are moved and stacked at the port of Singapore. BLOOMBERG

SINGAPORE (AFP) - A Singapore shipping firm blacklisted by the United States government for allegedly supporting illicit arms shipments into North Korea strongly denied the allegation Friday (July 24) and vowed to clear its name.

Senat Shipping and Trading Pte Ltd said it had "for many years chartered North Korean vessels to operate on the global spot market" but all these were legitimate commercial transactions.

"Senat wishes to stress that all its dealings were legal and involved commercial shipments of commodities on behalf of international commodity traders. These transactions have always been transparent and can survive any form of scrutiny," it said in a statement.

In imposing sanctions on Senat and its president, Leonard Lai, on Thursday, the US Treasury Department alleged that the company was providing "extensive support" to Ocean Maritime Management Company (OMMC), a North Korean firm that already was under sanctions.

The blacklist freezes any US assets held by Senat and Lai, and prohibits US citizens from conducting any transactions with them.

Chong Chon Gang, a ship operated by OMMC, was seized in July 2013 near the Panama Canal carrying undeclared Soviet-era weapons and fighter jets under thousands of sugar sacks.

The cargo, which came from Cuba, was intended for North Korea.

The US Treasury Department on Thursday claimed that Senat provides support to OMMC by "arranging the purchase, repair, certification, and crewing" of ships for that company.

"Arms shipments transported by OMMC serve as a key resource for North Korea's ongoing proliferation activities. Sales from these shipments contribute to North Korea's other illicit programmes," said Adam Szubin, the Treasury's acting undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

Senat in its statement said that it had chartered the Chong Chon Gang on a regular basis but stressed that it was not the charterer at the time the vessel was intercepted in Panama.

"We strongly stress that Senat was not the charterer of the vessel at the time of its arrest and Senat has not chartered the vessel at all since its arrest," the company said.

OMMC was blacklisted by the United Nations after the ship was caught, and Senat said that Chinpo Shipping Services, a Singapore firm which had acted as the agent for the vessel, was prosecuted by local authorities at that time.

Senat said it "strongly refutes these groundless and unwarranted allegations" and that it was in the process of contacting the US Treasury Department to explain its side.

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