The Korea Herald

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Korean Russian sanctioned over NK weapons programs

By Choi Si-young

Published : June 28, 2023 - 15:26

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The flags of South Korea (left) and North Korea. (123rf) The flags of South Korea (left) and North Korea. (123rf)

South Korea unveiled sanctions on a Russian citizen of Korean descent and his company, as well as on a separate North Korean citizen and a joint venture run by the two individuals, the latest efforts to crack down on North Korea’s attempts to fund its weapons programs.

Choi Chon-gon set up Hanne Ulaan, a company in Mongolia, to bankroll Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs. He also founded a joint venture called Epsilon with a North Korean citizen, according to the South Korean Foreign Ministry.

“The sanctions we announced today on Choi and the (other businesses and an individual) will raise awareness of the international sanctions the North is facing,” Lee Jun-il, director general for North Korean nuclear affairs, said.

The official assisting South Korea’s chief nuclear envoy was referring to United Nations Security Council resolutions prompted by the North’s nuclear buildup. The sanctions ban individuals and entities from joint work with the isolated country, which still defies them, saying it is unfairly targeted.

The ministry said that Choi had fled to Russia to avoid investigations Korean police were conducting into his alleged financial wrongdoing. What those allegations and when he had left Korea cannot be disclosed, police said citing protocol. A UN report on North Korea published in 2021 described Choi as a key figure in helping the country circumvent sanctions.

Choi, the ministry added, is in Vladivostok, running businesses that do not involve North Korea in any way, while maintaining close ties with a Korean community in Russia’s eastern city. Any South Koreans doing business with Choi could now face the same sanctions, according to the ministry.

The latest sanction is part a pressure campaign spearheaded by the Yoon administration. President Yoon, who took over in May last year, has since sanctioned 45 individuals and 47 entities believed to have ties to the North’s weapons programs. The South and the US, its biggest ally, had also rolled out joint sanctions, but North had responded with shows of force like missile tests.

At a key party meeting that ended last week, North Korea vowed to press ahead with what it calls a plan to launch a second military reconnaissance satellite. Seoul and Washington believe the Pyongyang is using it as a cover for advancing ballistic missile technology, which UN sanctions ban.

While admitting a rocket failure last month and vowing to try a second launch soon, the North demands the South and US scrap their regular military exercises, part of what it says is America’s “anti-North Korea policy.” Pyongyang also wants sanctions eased but neither Seoul nor Washington has agreed to the terms, saying talks should take place without preconditions.