Singapore firms accused to sending luxury goods to N Korea

Responding to UN report, lawyer says they wound down trading ties following sanctions and are helping with investigations

Two Singapore companies accused of violating UN sanctions by supplying luxury goods to North Korea had been trading with the country since the mid-2000s, a lawyer for the firms told The Straits Times yesterday.

And one had employed North Koreans before the sanctions kicked in, said Mr Edmond Pereira, who represents the two companies in question - OCN (Singapore) and T Specialist International.

He said the goods traded included food items, beverages such as Pocari, electronics and Seiko and Citizen watches.

But after the sanctions were imposed on North Korea in 2006, both firms started whittling down the trading activities.

However, it "took some time to wind things down," he said.

Both OCN and T Specialist are sister companies sharing the same director and are among those highlighted in a leaked draft of a United Nations report, according to the BBC.

The final report is likely to be published later this week, it said.

The draft report alleges that both firms supplied a range of luxury goods to North Korea, including wines and spirits, until July last year. They have denied any wrongdoing, the BBC said.

Late last year, Singapore authorities began investigations following a complaint from the UN.

"Our clients are helping Singapore authorities and UN agencies in their investigations in every possible way, and hope to get the matter cleared soon," said Mr Pereira, who was engaged when investigations began.

Under UN sanctions, it is illegal to sell luxury items to North Korea. Singapore has also banned the sale of these items to North Korea for several years.

He maintained that the Singapore firms do not currently have financial ties with entities in North Korea, including a department store named OCN.

When ST visited OCN at 501, West Coast Drive, yesterday, it found a Singapore Pools outlet behind the OCN storefront.

Asked if the company had an export business, a counter assistant said goods were sometimes delivered from the store, and pointed to a boxed water dispenser and a cabinet with new shampoo bottles.

While ACRA records say T Specialist is at Bukit Timah Plaza, ST could not find the business there. Mr Leo Ng Kheng Wah, the director of both firms, declined to comment.

The leaked UN report claims that between 2011 and 2014, transactions valued at more than US$2 million (S$2.6m), allegedly proceeds from the sale of goods in North Korea, flowed from an account set up by both firms in a North Korean bank, Daedong Credit Bank, to T Specialist's bank accounts in Singapore.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore said it and other local agencies are working with the UN, but declined to name the banks being investigated.

The financial regulator has also stepped up supervision of financial institutions over prohibited activities related to North Korea.

"MAS is making a series of onsite supervisory visits to banks that have been identified through intelligence received or through sweeps by MAS of suspicious transactions," the spokesman said.

MAS said it has been in close contact with the UN and foreign authorities to develop intelligence in order to detect and act against UN-prohibited entities and activities.