U.S. sanctions North Korean companies on Cuba weapons case

The U.S. Treasury Department on Wednesday sanctioned two North Korean companies and 18 cargo ships for a shipment of Cuban weapons that violated a U.N. arms embargo on Pyongyang, and barely mentioned Cuba’s role in the case.

Ocean Maritime Management Company, Ltd., the Chongchongang Shipping Company and the freighter were put on a list that subjects them to seizures of their bank accounts and forbids U.S. entities from doing business with them.

A Treasury statement said the sanctions were sparked by the case of the Chong Chon Gang, a North Korean freighter intercepted in Panama last summer and found to be carrying 240 tons of Cuban weapons to Pyongyang.

The 1,100-word statement mentioned Cuba only once, to note that the weapons were going “from Cuba to the DPRK” — Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the official name of North Korea.

“How about sanctioning the owners of the Cuban weapons that were being smuggled … or how about sanctioning the Cuban officials that made the deal” with North Korea, wrote Mauricio Claver-Carone in his blog, Capitol Hill Cubans.

A knowledgeable Washington official noted that perhaps Treasury did not feel it was necessary to sanction Cuban government entities and individuals because they already are under strong sanctions from the U.S. trade embargo.

The U.N. Security Council on Monday added Ocean Maritime Management Company to its list of violators of the U.N. arms embargo on Pyongyang, which exposed the North Korean company to banking and travel sanctions.

Cuba argued that it did not violate the embargo, which bans the “transfer” of weapons, because the “obsolete” weapons aboard the Chong Chon Gang were being sent to North Korea to be repaired and then returned.

A panel of UNSC experts who investigated the case nevertheless found in a March report that both Cuba and North Korea had violated the embargo, put on Pyongyang because of its efforts to develop nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.

The UNSC decision Monday also spared Cuba any sanctions, with Latin American diplomats at the United Nations saying that Russia, which has a veto in the Security Council, had strongly opposed sanctioning any Cuban entity.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, issued a statement Tuesday branding the Cuban weapons shipment as “a cynical, outrageous and illegal attempt by Cuba and North Korea to circumvent United Nations sanctions.”

UNSC experts found the Cuban weapons, including two anti-aircraft missile systems and 16 engines for Mig-21 jets, were hidden under tons of sugar in the hold of the freighter and that the weapons were not declared in the cargo manifest.

Cuba refused to identify the island officials and companies involved in the shipment, saying its agreement with North Korea required confidentiality.

The shipment was the single largest cargo of weapons bound for North Korea intercepted under the embargo, the experts wrote in their report.

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