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By Ryan Pickrell
The U.S. is seeking almost two million dollars in civil penalties from a Chinese company accused of laundering money for a North Korean bank, the Department of Justice revealed Thursday.
Mingzheng International Trading Limited allegedly conspired to evade U.S. economic sanctions on North Korea and served as a front company founded to launder U.S. dollars through American financial institutions on behalf of the Foreign Trade Bank, a blacklisted North Korean entity managed by the government.
The U.S. is demanding $1,902,976 from Mingzheng, a company registered in Hong Kong, for suspected sanctions violations.
The penalty, if approved by the District Court for the District of Colombia, will be “one of the largest seizures of North Korean funds by the Department of Justice,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a statement. Mingzheng was, according to confidential informants, operated by a Chinese citizen with connections to the Foreign Trade Bank.
China is the reclusive North Korean regime’s largest benefactor, with bilateral trade between the two countries accounting for the vast majority — about 90 percent — of all North Korean trade.
In an effort to deprive North Korea of the funds and materials to advance its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, the U.S., together with other members of the international community, have been targeting North Korea’s trade links with sanctions. There are a number of companies and firms in China with a history of skirting these sanctions, undermining efforts to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and regular ballistic missile tests.
The U.S. Department of the Treasury announced last summer that it would prevent any company or financial institution conducting banking transactions with North Korea.
The U.S. prosecutors filing a complaint against Mingzheng told the court that the company’s activities were closely linked to another Chinese company, Dandong Hongxiang Industrial Development Company, The New York Times reported Friday. Mingzheng appears to have also facilitated financial transactions between a North Korean company and the ZTE, a Chinese telecommunications company.
The Department of Justice filed criminal charges against Dandong Hongxiang’s top executive, Ma Xiaohong, and a number of her coworkers last year. China strongly criticized the move, accusing the U.S. of forcing its laws on other countries. ZTE pleaded guilty and paid a $1.19 billion settlement in March for selling electronics to North Korea and Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions.
The Trump administration has been encouraging China to put greater pressure on North Korea. China has completely suspended all shipments of North Korean coal and implemented certain trade restrictions, but doubts remain as to whether Beijing will fully commit China to stopping its problematic neighbor from developing weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them to foreign targets.