US announces largest-ever sanctions tranche against North Korea

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) on Friday issued its largest sanctions package against North Korea, aimed at stemming illicit maritime activities the country has been using to engage in trade of coal and other products.

“North Korea, we imposed today the heaviest sanctions ever imposed on a country before,” President Donald Trump said during a speech before the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday. “And frankly, hopefully something positive can happen, we will see.”

While the United Nations Security Council has issued resolutions against North Korea’s fuel trade, Pyongyang has found ways to circumvent the sanctions in place by engaging in “UN-prohibited ship-to-ship transfers of refined petroleum products.” Some of the vessels are able to carry more than $5.5 million worth of coal at a time, according to the White House, and the regime can use coal revenues to fund its nuclear program.

“We’re trying to make sure that the significant reduction in fuel mandated by the U.N. sanctions are unable to be circumvented,” senior administration officials told reporters on Friday. “We are going after illicit activity wherever we see it, we’re going after sanction evasion wherever we see it.”

The U.S. issued a warning to companies that are engaging in these illicit activities with, or on behalf of, North Korea, that they will be subject to not only designations, but sanctions in certain circumstances.

The sanctions specifically target one individual, 27 entities, and include nine shipping companies and 28 vessels that were identified in nine locations, including North Korea, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore.

North Korea gets away with its deceptive shipping practices by concealing or falsifying information displayed on vessels and conducting ship-to-ship transfers, a practice that is prohibited by the United Nations.

Friday’s sanctions announcement is a continuation of the Trump administration’s “campaign of maximum pressure” against the North Korean regime. Senior administration officials noted on Friday that the president is frustrated with “upticks” he has seen in North Korea’s nuclear program and is prepared to do whatever he can to target the various ways the regime is able to generate money.