US judge orders Chinese banks to hand over N. Korea records

WASHINGTON • A US district judge has ordered three Chinese banks to comply with US investigators' demands that they hand over records connected to the alleged movement of tens of millions of dollars in violation of international sanctions on North Korea.

In a heavily redacted court opinion released by the US Justice Department on Tuesday and dated March 18, Washington DC's chief federal district judge Beryl Howell said the subpoenas were for records of dealings between a now-defunct Hong Kong-based front company and a North Korean state-run entity. The publicly released court document did not name the banks, the Hong Kong company, or the North Korean entity.

The court document said the front company was established by a North Korean national and a Chinese individual, who were also not named.

It said the Chinese government had ownership stakes in all three of the banks, the first two of which have branches in the United States.

The subpoenas were issued in December 2017 as part of a US investigation into violations of sanctions targeting North Korea's nuclear weapons programme, including money laundering and contravention of the US Bank Secrecy Act.

According to the court document, the subpoenas demanded a wide range of bank records dating back to January 2012.

The document highlighted transactions totalling US$105.34 million (S$143 million), including US$45.78 million that went through a US correspondent account of the first Chinese bank.

China is North Korea's neighbour and main trading partner but has committed to enforcing international sanctions aimed at pressing Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons. Beijing has also said it opposes unilateral sanctions outside the UN framework, and has accused Washington of using "long-arm" jurisdiction in targeting Chinese entities.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2019, with the headline 'US judge orders Chinese banks to hand over N. Korea records'. Print Edition | Subscribe