United States wins seized North Korean cargo ship


A judge has awarded the United States ownership of a North Korean shipping vessel seized last year in violation of U.N. sanctions, prosecutors said.

Wise Honest, a 17,061-ton carrier ship and one of North Korea’s largest bulk vessels, was awarded to the United States Monday, the Justice Department said.

The ship was intercepted by Indonesian authorities in April 2018. On inspection, the vessel was found to contain North Korean coal, which the supply, transfer and sale of is prohibited under U.N. Security Council sanctions, the United States said.

According to a complaint filed by federal prosecutors in May, from at least November 2016 to its detention, the vessel exported North Korean coal to foreign buyers and imported heavy machinery back to the hermetic country.

Prosecutors said that those involved in the conspiracy falsified documents to conceal the origins of the ship and its cargo. In November 2018, the ship’s captain was convicted in Indonesia for claiming Wise Honest was loaded with coal in Nahkoda, Russia, and not the North Korean seaport city of Nampo.

They also said U.S. currency was used through U.S. banks to pay for numerous improvements and equipment for the ship and more than $750,000 was transferred through accounts at unwitting U.S. financial institutions to purchase the cargo of coal on board Wise Honest at the time it was seized

Soon after being detained, the Southern District of New York issued the U.S. attorney’s office a warrant for its seizure, which Indonesia complied with, making Wise Honest the United States’ first-ever seizure of a North Korean ship on sanctions violations, the Justice Department said.

In May, the Department of Justice filed for its forfeiture on the grounds of sanction violations.

“Today’s judgment of forfeiture finalized the U.S. government’s seizure of the Wise Honest and officially takes this North Korean vessel out of commission,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman of the Southern District of New York said in a statement. “It will no longer be used to further a criminal scheme. Using the full set of tools at our disposal, we will continue to investigate and prosecute attempts to evade U.S. sanctions, including by the North Korean regime.”

In a statement Monday, the prosecutors thanked Fred and Cindy Warmbier, the parents of deceased U.S. student Otto Warmbier, who voluntarily withdrew their claim of the vessel to hasten its forfeiture.

In July, the Warmbiers were awarded the right to sell Wise Honest to cover the $500 million judgment against North Korea in connection to the death of their son who fell sick shortly after being detained by the Kim Jong Un regime and died shortly after being released.

In his three-page ruling, Judge P. Kevin Castel said the Warmbiers “resolved” their petition.

“This order of forfeiture sinks the Wise Honest’s career as one of North Korea’s largest sanctions-busting vessels,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers said in a statement.

“The Department of Justice will continue to pursue other property used to violate U.S. and international sanctions, around the globe, with the cooperation of our international partners.”


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