Singaporean wanted by FBI for allegedly violating US sanctions on North Korea; assisting SPF with investigations

Singaporean wanted by FBI for allegedly violating US sanctions on North Korea; assisting SPF with investigations

Kwek Kee Seng is wanted by the FBI for allegedly violating US sanctions of North Korea
Kwek Kee Seng is currently assisting the Singapore police in investigations. He is wanted by the US authorities for allegedly violating US sanctions on North Korea. (Photo: Federal Bureau of Investigation) 

SINGAPORE: The Singapore Police Force (SPF) confirmed on Thursday (Apr 28) that a Singaporean man wanted in the United States for allegedly flouting sanctions on North Korea is assisting the police here with investigations.

Kwek Kee Seng is assisting with ongoing investigations concerning possible offences under the United Nations Act, said the police.

Criminal charges have been filed in a US court against Kwek for conspiracy to "evade economic sanctions" on North Korea and conspiracy to commit money laundering. 

"Singapore will assist the United States authorities within the ambit of our laws and international obligations," said the police. 

Kwek, 61, is on a Most Wanted list by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). According to an FBI poster, Kwek is the director and shareholder of Swanseas Port Services, a shipping agency and terminal operations company. 

Last Friday, a federal arrest warrant was issued for Kwek in the United States District Court in New York after he was charged with conspiracy to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and conspiracy to commit international money laundering. 

Kwek See Keng FBI wanted poster
(Image: FBI)

If found guilty, each count carries a maximum term of 20 years in prison. 

ALLEGEDLY DIRECTED OIL SHIPMENTS TO NORTH KOREA

Kwek allegedly facilitated and directed numerous petroleum oil shipments to North Korea and ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum oil to North Korean vessels, said the FBI. 

This had gone on for several years, dating back to early 2019. The shipments provided a "critical" resource for North Korean-based companies and for the North Korean government. 

Kwek allegedly entered several contractual agreements with other foreign agents and conspired in a "collaborative effort" to launder money through the US financial system. Kwek funnelled US dollars through front companies to conceal payment origins and structured transactions to avoid scrutiny and avoid sanctions. 

"In an effort to conceal the illicit activity, the North Korean shipping scheme violated several international maritime safety guidelines," said the FBI. 

TANKER OPERATED BY KWEK SEIZED BY US GOVERNMENT

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) said on Apr 23 that the US government had seized a tanker bought and operated by Kwek.

The M/T Courageous, an oil products tanker, was used to make illicit deliveries of petroleum through ship-to-ship transfers with North Korean vessels and direct shipments to the North Korean port of Nampo, said the DOJ.

The seized vessel will no longer "enable North Korea's pattern of evading the global community's prohibition on support for that regime", said Manhattan US Attorney Audrey Strauss. 

A photo of MT Courageous
A photo of M/T Courageous, the tanker owned by Kwek See Keng. (Image: US Department of Justice)

Between August and December 2019, the vessel "illicitly stopped" transmitting location information. Time satellite imagery showed that the M/T Courageous was engaged in a ship-to-ship transfer of more than US$1.5 million worth of oil to a North Korean ship, the Saebyol.

The ship also travelled to Nampo, said the DOJ. 

SHELL COMPANIES

Kwek and his co-conspirators also took additional steps to hide the scheme. He operated a series of shell companies, lied to international shipping authorities about the vessel's dealings with North Korea and falsely identifying the M/T Courageous as another ship to evade detection. 

He and his co-conspirators also arranged for a variety of payments that were processed through US-based correspondent accounts to purchase oil, said the DOJ.

This included more than US$1.5 million to purchase the oil that was transferred to the Saebyol, and more than US$500,000 to buy the M/T Courageous. Thousands of dollars were also used to obtain necessary services for the M/T Courageous and another vessel, including registration fees, ship materials and salary for the crew. 

Kwek and his co-conspirators overseas sought to conceal the transactions. This included using front companies to disguise the nature of the transactions, disguising location information for vessels carrying illicit shipment and conducting fuel transfers on the open sea to hide their counterparties. 

The M/T Courageous was seized by Cambodian authorities on March 2020. They have been holding the vessel following a US seizure warrant issued on Apr 2, 2020. 

Source: CNA/lk(ac)

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