North Korea sent 1,000 IT specialists across the world: UN report

NEW YORK — The North Korean military has possibly sent over 1,000 information technology workers abroad to earn foreign currency, a United Nations panel will disclose in an upcoming report, it was learned Friday.

These specialists are sending back over $20 million in violation of sanctions and the money is being used to fund the nation’s nuclear and missile programs, the panel of experts reporting to the U.N. Security Council say in the report.

The U.N. briefly posted the document on its homepage Friday before taking it down. Multiple U.N. sources told Nikkei that it was mistakenly posted and was scheduled to be released on Monday.

The report is an overview of North Korea’s compliance to sanctions in 2019. The personnel that Pyongyang has sent overseas also includes athletes and medical workers, who all send back money to the country.

The deployment is controlled by the military, and it is suspected that the money sent back is used for the development of nuclear weapons and missiles, which are banned by Security Council sanctions.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was in violation of several UN sanctions, according to a Security Council report.

  © KCNA via AP

The Security Council had mandated U.N. members to deport North Korean workers by Dec. 22, 2019, but countries including China and Russia have reportedly not done so.

One member state told the panel that “2,000 nationals of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea recently entered China on visitor visas for the purpose of earning income,” the report said, referring to North Korea by its official name.

In response to the panel’s enquiry, China replied that it “could not verify” the information, the panel said.

As for Russia, statistics showed that “there was a sharp increase in the number of tourist and student visas granted” to North Korean nationals last year, it said.

Russian has issued about 13,000 visas to North Korean tourists between January and September last year, a tenfold increase from 2017. It also issued over 7,000 student visas. These North Koreans are seen as contributing to the remittance.

Luxury goods, which North Korea leader Kim Jong Un often uses to garner loyalty among his officials, continue to enter the country in defiance of sanctions. The report noted that Japanese-manufactured third-generation Lexus SUVs were seen in November 2019 in the presence of Kim and his entourage.

In response to the panel’s enquiries, Toyota Motor, the Lexus parent, determined that the vehicles were LX 570 models with the Sports Package, as they had aero parts, a 5.7-liter engine and all-wheel drive. LX 570 models have been produced since August 2017.

Shipments of alcohol such as whiskey, cognac, brandy, vodka, beer and wine continued in 2019, it said.

A detailed account of how a pair of Mercedes-Benz S-Class 600 Sedan Long Guard VR9 vehicles were imported to North Korea showed that the cars were shipped from the factory in Germany to Italy, then Osaka in Japan and later Busan in South Korea. From there, the cars were placed on a vessel stated for Nakhodka in Russia, but soon after leaving port, the ship ceased transmitting its automatic identification system signal, according to the report.

The panel concluded that North Korea continues to perpetrate cyberattacks against financial institutions and cryptocurrency exchanges globally. In April 2019, the country hosted an international “cryptocurrency conference” in Pyongyang, gathering international experts in the blockchain and crypto industry to share their knowledge, vision and to establish long lasting connections.

North Korea “is becoming increasingly sophisticated in terms of its attack vectors against both financial institutions and cryptocurrency exchanges,” it said.

While the export of earth and stone, of which sand is a constituent, has been banned by sanctions, a substantial sand-export operation to China has been carried out since May 2019, with over 100 illicit shipments.

Chinese-flagged and other foreign-flagged vessels were reported to have been loading sand in or near Haeju, Hwanghae Province, and in the Sinchang Workers’ District, South Hamgyong Province. These shipments involved at least 1 million tons of sand and were worth at least $22 million.

Meanwhile, the illicit export of coal increased last year. It exported 3.7 million tons of coal between January and August, with an estimated value of $370 million. Most coal exports were conducted via ship-to-ship transfers from North Korea-flagged vessels to Chinese local barges, it said.

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