Wed, Nov 28, 2007 - Page 4 News List

Third firm probed over banned sales to N Korea

SUSPECT SHIPMENTS Prosecutors said the firm may have violated UN sanctions and sent North Korea a device that could be used to produce nukes

By Debby Wu  /  AP , TAIPEI

Prosecutors are investigating a company suspected of exporting equipment to North Korea that could be used in the manufacture of nuclear weapons, an official said yesterday.

The Yicheng Company (怡正公司), a Taipei-based import-export firm, is alleged to have transferred an industrial filtering device to North Korea earlier this year via China, said the official with the Ministry of Justice's Investigation Bureau.

If proven, the transfer would violate UN sanctions meant to punish North Korea for its nuclear programs.

But the alleged deal also underscores budding commercial ties between Taiwan and poverty-stricken, politically isolated North Korea.

The official declined to provide specifics on the filtering device but said it could be used to extract plutonium to make nuclear weapons and also to make biological and chemical weapons.

"The equipment is on the embargo list for export to North Korea, as Taiwan follows the UN Security Council's trade sanctions," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Bureau investigators have handed the case to prosecutors for further investigation and possible filing of charges, the official said.

Yicheng could not be contacted for comment. The company's telephone number is not publicly listed.

The UN Security Council imposed trade sanctions against Pyongyang in October last year after North Korea conducted its first successful nuclear test. Under the sanctions, member states must prevent North Korea from importing or exporting any material for weapons of mass destruction or ballistic missiles.

The Investigation Bureau official said Yicheng would be the third company caught illegally exporting military-related equipment to North Korea this year.

In the two other incidents, investigators found that Chenghui Co (正輝) sold equipment capable of manufacturing ammunition, while Taipei-based Huayueh Co (華悅) exported computers with military applications.

The latest investigation comes amid progress in international efforts to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear programs. This month Pyongyang began to disable its sole functioning nuclear reactor and a related processing facility under a deal with the US, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia.

In return, North Korea will receive the equivalent of 1 million tonnes of oil and other benefits from the five negotiating partners.

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