S. Korea charges 4 with illegally importing N. Korean coal

By HYUNG-JIN KIMFeaturesAssociated Press

South Korean prosecutors said Monday that they have charged four people with illegally importing North Korean coal via Russia in violation of U.N. sanctions.

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The indictments, handed down on Friday, came four months after customs authorities accused three of the four of using forged documents to illicitly import 35,000 tons of North Korean coal and other minerals worth $5.8 million.

South Korean media said prosecutors found an additional person implicated in the case during an investigation.

Prosecutors said in a statement that the four people and their five entities were charged with violating a law requiring government approval to bring North Korean products into the South.

U.N. sanctions that were toughened in 2017 ban member states from importing North Korean coal and other minerals that had been key sources of foreign currency for the impoverished yet nuclear-armed country.

The prosecutors' statement said the four people attempted to get profits by selling North Korean minerals whose prices dropped in the wake of the sanctions. It said they used falsified documents and transshipments at Russian ports to disguise North Korean minerals as Russian ones.

North Korea has been seeking sanctions relief in return for some of the measures the country has taken since entering nuclear talks early this year, such as dismantling its nuclear testing site and suspending weapons tests. U.S. officials want the North to take more significant steps.

South Korea's liberal president, Moon Jae-in, who favors a negotiated solution to the nuclear issue, has facilitated U.S.-North Korea diplomacy this year. But when he met President Donald Trump recently on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Argentina, the two agreed that sanctions would remain in place until North Korea completes its nuclear disarmament.

A South Korean Foreign Ministry official said the indictments should be seen as an effort by the government to abide by U.N. sanctions. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because she wasn't authorized to speak to reporters on the issue.