North Koreans brokering deals and earning commission seems to be a current trend that Pyongyang Papers is investigating on a regular basis. This option of earning currency to send back to the regime is attractive as it allows North Koreans to earn money without ultimately having to be directly involved in the movement of good and services which may come under scrutiny. Brokering deals is also very attractive as it allows the North Koreans to stay under the radar of law enforcement whilst ensuring the deals appear completely legitimate. In many cases the vendors involved in the deals may not be aware that North Koreans are facilitating the deal!

Chong Sang-Hun

As mentioned previously, Chong Sang-Hun is an official at the DPRK embassy in Thailand who often brokers deals to earn huge amounts of commission with minimal risks. His previous deals involve gold, coking coal and copper cathodes. Pyongyang Papers sources have informed us that Chong is currently working on a commission based deal worth millions of dollars on behalf of Taiwan based company Semiconductor Equipment Manufacturing Inc. (欣憶電子股份有限公司) – SEM.

SEM street view
Street view of the Semiconductor Equipment Manufacturing office in Taoyuan, Taiwan

SEM, also known as Xinyi Electronic Co., Ltd. at times are “One of the renowned suppliers and exporters of semiconductor machinery in Taiwan” according to their website and are based in Zhongli District in Taoyuan City. Their primary business is buying, selling, leasing and refurbishing semiconductor related equipment. Pyongyang Papers wonders how much the chairman Chu Smith knows about North Korean involvement in brokering business deals for his company? We are continuing to investigate Chong and SEM but if you have any information regarding the deal, please get in touch through the ‘Contact Us’ page.

Brokering deals – A worrying trend

North Koreans and their friends brokering deals, either for the regime or to help the regime, is not new but does appear to increasing in regularity. Back in 2012, a notorious British international arms dealer named Michael Ranger was prosecuted and jailed for brokering an arms deal between North Korea and Azerbaijan. The latest UN Panel of Experts midterm report also note that Haegumgang Trading Corporation, a DPRK weapons trading entity, was planning on brokering $3.5 million worth of military equipment to Nigeria in June 2021, And in July 2021 a South Korean-born Australian named Chan Han Choi was sentenced to over 3 years in prison for breaking UN sanctions by trying to broker deals for missile components and coal to raise funds for the regime, Chan Han Choi had a history on involvement with North Korea and had previously tried to involve North Korean athletes in the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000.

Allowing the DPRK to broker deals, and their allies to broker deals on behalf of North Korea unchallenged ensures that the regime has a steady flow of cash to continue to pursue its nuclear ambitions and maintains instability in Asia. Recently the DPRK regime has increased their missile tests to unprecedented levels with Kim Jong Un recently stating the DPRK’s need to secure “overwhelming military power”. This has North Korea watchers around the world wondering if a nuclear test may be imminent. Pyongyang Papers calls on the UN and other investigative bodies to look into the use of brokers and the role they play in avoiding sanctions.

As always, if you have any information regarding the topics in any of our articles, please get in touch through the ‘Contact Us’ page

Despite the UN Security Council imposed sanctions, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that trading and business still happens as usual for the DPRK regime. The United Nations Security Council Panel of Experts reports everything from refined petroleum to military equipment and even foreign alcoholic beverages can be found in a department store in downtown Pyongyang. As shown in our previous article, luxury goods are still managing to make their way into the DPRK through a variety of different methods.

Old Methods Still Used

Individuals trying to avoid sanctions have been seen using clever methods but often quite obvious tactics get these goods across seas and through borders. Pyongyang Papers has written several articles featuring the commonly used methods including ship-to-ship transfers and direct tanker deliveries sailing under foreign flags. The March 2021 Panel of Experts report even notes a recorded instance of a vessel making up to 9 return visits over a six-month period.

Pyongyang Papers has previously investigated DPRK citizens working overseas in different roles to generate funds to support the regime back at home and its nuclear ballistic missiles program. It seems there are no end of individuals who are willing to break sanctions in the pursuit of money. Through Pyongyang Papers sources and our investigations, we can now name a number of individuals that are part of a group involved in breaching sanctions and raising funds for the DPRK regime.

Vessels in use to smuggle to DPRK

A report to Pyongyang Papers has highlighted sanction breaking behavior by a Taiwanese criminal group headed by Huang Chung-wei with money laundering activities headed by husband and wife duo, Chu Hua-sheng and Liu Chung-hsuan. This group has been working with another Taiwanese citizen by the name of “Allen” Yu Ping-yuan to carry out smuggling activities to support the DPRK regime despite UN sanctions.

Chen Shih-huan is also involved with this criminal group using an oil tanker called COURAGEOUS with IMO 8617524, a vessel used to smuggle sanctioned oil cargo to DPRK tankers. The most recent Panel of expert’s report, released in March 2021, details how the unknown-flagged tanker SEA PRIMA (also known as COURAGEOUS) conducted ship-to-ship transfers with designated DPRK tankers in both August and September of 2019. In March 2020, Cambodian authorities detained the SEA PRIMA sailing as the COURAGEOUS.

The Crew members of the COURAGEOUS involved in ship-to-ship transfers with North Korea in violation of UN Sanctions

More recent reports from Mehr News Agency suggest that the United States seized the Singapore owned oil tanker and that the owner Kwek Kee Seng is facing criminal charges of conspiracy to evade economic sanctions on the DPRK along with conspiracy of money laundering. The statement did not say why the charges against Kwek had not been brought more than a year after the ship was seized but added that a New York federal court had entered judgement of forfeiture regarding the vessel.

Pyongyang Papers wonder how the seizure of the COURAGEOUS has affected Huang and his criminal gang?

It isn’t just Taiwan-based individuals and organizations involved. The August 2020 and March 2021 reports show various allegations against countries including the Republic of Korea, Namibia, Nigeria and Guinea. As highlighted in the UN Panel of Experts reports by several non-governmental organizations, the sanctions have no doubt had a negative impact on the civilian population in many ways. One example is the civilians of North Korea have limited agricultural resources such as transportation, machinery, fertilizers, and an overall decreasing food security especially throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The same goes for the acquisition of coal and petroleum; there are instances of foreign-flagged tanker deliveries being made to DPRK through companies who changed ownership or dissolved just months beforehand in an attempt to confuse or hide the fact that sanctions are being ignored. These products don’t seem to be used for the benefit of the people, but rather to support the industries building ballistic missiles and other weapons.

If you have any information about DPRK sanctions evasion please contact Pyongyang Papers.

As reported previously, Pyongyang papers has been hard at work investigating and exposing oil smuggling and sanctions evading activities through ship to ship transfers to DPRK vessels. It would appear that there are no end of companies that are willing to disregard sanctions and smuggle commodities and goods for the North Korean regime. The threat of a damaged reputation and financial ruin if they are caught seems to do little to deter some companies from working with North Korea.

This new Pyongyang Papers investigation centers around methods used by ‘flagged’ vessels registered in third country.


Entrance to the Panama Canal
Entrance to the Panama Canal

Panama is positioned on one of the worlds most important trade routes which connects the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans. The Panama Canal has offered a short cut for shipping wanting to avoid the hazardous cape horn for over 100 years.

Panama has by far the largest flagged shipping fleet in the world. So why would such a small nation with a population of less than 4.5 million inhabitants have the biggest fleet in the world? One answer is because its easy to obtain registration. Panama operates an open registry. This is a not a new concept. Ships have used false flags as a tactic to evade enemy warships with examples from as early as the Roman era through to the Middle Ages. The term known as a ‘flag of convenience’ has been used since the 1950’s. However, the modern day practice of ships being registered in third party countries began in the 1920’s.

Why Panama?

What are the advantages of registering under the Panama flag? Well there are a number of advantages. Panama offers the advantage of a quick and easy registration and slack maritime regulations. Ships flying the Panama flag often belong to foreign owners that wish to avoid stricter maritime regulations imposed by their own country. Another advantage is the ability to employ cheap foreign labor with the added bonus of foreign owners paying no income tax.

To Pyongyang Papers this practice does not appear very ethical as it enables illicit trade, sanctions evasion and criminal gain worth millions of dollars every year. Although legal, Pyongyang Papers wonders if this practice should be allowed to continue or should international laws be changed so that flagged vessels should be registered in home countries and therefore governed by the home countries maritime regulations?

Pyongyang Papers has been investigating one such Panama flagged vessel named SUNWARD. The SUNWARD sails under IMO 8920115 and is an oil tanker built in 1990. The tanker has had a number of name changes in the past including GREAT FISH and SUNNY FALCON. Pyongyang Papers has information that the listed owner for the tanker as of 2019 was ‘Sunward Marine S.A.’ based in Kaohsuing, Taiwan with the commercial operator named as ‘Wills International Co. Ltd’ listed at the same address. This would point to the tanker being operated out of Taiwan.

Information from our sources has confirmed that the tanker SUNWARD has been used to evade UN sanctions. The vessel has been acting as feeder ship enabling the import of sanctioned oil to North Korea. Feeder ships are normally large tankers that load the oil from port and travel to a location where where ship to ship transfers will take place to often smaller vessels. During March and April this year the SUNWARD has been in action loading fuel at Taichung port in Taiwan, and transferring it to at least four DPRK tankers with a total of nearly 9,500 metric tonnes and worth millions of dollars.

Taichung Port, Taiwan
Taichung Port, Taiwan

The following four DPRK flagged vessels were spotted receiving fuel from the SUNWARD:

SIN PHYONG 2 (IMO 8817007)
AN SAN 1 (IMO 7303803)
UN HUNG (IMO 9045962)
SAM JONG 2 (IMO 7408873)

The SAM JONG 2 was listed in the latest UN Panel of Experts Report as receiving a ship to ship transfer from another Panama flagged vessel the RI XIN. The UN report also highlights a number of other Panama flagged vessels that have been supplying UN sanctioned oil to North Korea via ship to ship transfers, including:

HANG YU 11 (IMO 8694194)
RI XIN (IMO 9121302)
CHAN FONG (IMO 7350260)
KOYA aka HATCH (IMO 9396878)
RI HONG (IMO 9162318)
NEW KONK (IMO 9036387)
MOUSON 328 (IMO 9021198)

Pyongyang Papers believe that its time to add another tanker …. SUNWARD to this list and to urge the Panama authorities to look at the flag of convenience loop hole and police this practice. Without this loophole being closed the DPRK will continue to receive sanctioned goods that will ultimately fuel their quest for revenue to be used to support the regimes prohibited nuclear and ballistic missiles programs. If you have any information on North Korea sanctions evasion please get in touch.