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Sunday, September 19, 2021

US takes ownership of ship suspected in North Korea oil scheme

Prosecutors say the ship delivered petroleum products to North Korea through ship-to-ship transfers and direct shipments to the North Korean port of Nampo.

By: AP | New York |
July 31, 2021 9:13:35 am
Cambodian authorities, acting on a US warrant, seized the M/T Courageous in March 2020 and have held it there since. (Representational image)

A tanker ship allegedly used in an illegal scheme to smuggle oil to North Korea has a brand-new owner: the US government.

A federal judge in New York City issued a judgment of forfeiture Friday authorizing the US to take ownership of the 2,734-ton M/T Courageous, which is currently in Cambodia.

“The Courageous is permanently out of service,” Manhattan US Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a statement.

Prosecutors say the ship delivered petroleum products to North Korea through ship-to-ship transfers and direct shipments to the North Korean port of Nampo.

One exchange caught on satellite imagery showed the M/T Courageous transferring more than USD 1.5 million worth of oil to a North Korea-flagged ship, prosecutors said.

The deliveries and related transactions that were made with US currency through US banks violated US and United Nations sanctions on North Korea, prosecutors said.

Cambodian authorities, acting on a US warrant, seized the M/T Courageous in March 2020 and have held it there since.

The ship’s suspected owner and operator, Kwek Kee Seng, of Singapore, remains at large.

US prosecutors have charged Kwek with conspiracy to evade economic sanctions and money laundering conspiracy. Court records do not list a lawyer who could speak on Kwek’s behalf.

Prosecutors say Kwek and his co-conspirators engaged in an extensive scheme to evade sanctions by using vessels, including the M/T Courageous, to covertly deliver vital fuel supplies to North Korea while other ships were barred from doing so.

They allegedly tried to hide their scheme by using shell companies, lying to international shipping authorities and falsely identifying the M/T Courageous as a different ship.

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