North Korea is evading U.N. sanctions targeting a shipping company involved in arms smuggling by renaming and reflagging vessels, according to a U.N. report seen by several news organizations Wednesday.
The report, issued by the Security Council's Panel of Experts on North Korea, found that Ocean Maritime Management (OMM), a company that was blacklisted by the U.N. in 2014 after being found attempting to smuggle military equipment from Cuba to North Korea, was continuing to operate by transferring the ownership and national associations of its vessels.
"Thus far, 13 of the 14 vessels controlled by OMM have been renamed, their ownership transferred to other single shipowner companies ... and vessel management transferred to two main companies," the report said, according to AFP.
"These changes are likely a strategy to evade assets freezes by member states."
North Korea is subject to international sanctions as a result of its nuclear weapons program. These include embargoes on the sale of almost all arms to the country, and on ballistic and missile technology. The U.N. group that issued the report is charged with monitoring the implementation of sanctions against Pyongyang.
The report added that North Korean diplomats, officials and trade representatives played key roles in illegal weapons and missile deals, and were often involved in illegal funds transfers. The country's intelligence agents were also deemed to have aided the movement of money believed to be linked to weapons transactions, Reuters reported.
In July 2013, the North Korean, OMM-owned vessel Chong Chon Gang was detained in Panama after authorities found that it was carrying Soviet-era military equipment from Cuba to North Korea. The ship's illicit cargo included two MiG-21 aircraft, anti-aircraft batteries and disassembled rockets.
Cuba, which maintains full diplomatic relations with North Korea, admitted sending the arms, but claimed that they were being sent to North Korea for repair, and would then be returned.
In 2014, prior to the discovery of the illegal arms shipment, the panel that monitors the implementation of sanctions against North Korea reported that the country was using its embassies to facilitate an illegal trade in weaponry. It added that Pyongyang had adopted tactics “pioneered by drug-trafficking organizations” that made tracking the isolated country’s purchase of prohibited goods more difficult, according to Al-Jazeera.