A law enforcement official yesterday confirmed that investigators had raided a company suspected of shipping banned machinery to North Korea via a Chinese firm with ties to Pyongyang's military.
The owner of the firm, Ho Li Enterprises, said that two computer-controlled machine tools used in the manufacture of engines were shipped to North Korea earlier this year, but said he was unaware he had broken the law.
The owner, surnamed Huang (黃), said that his company's premises were raided in July by law enforcement officials acting on a tip from the US government.
The law enforcement official confirmed the shipment and raid had taken place but did not discuss US involvement. The American Institute in Taiwan declined to comment on the claim, but said it cooperates closely with Taiwan on enforcing export controls and stemming the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
The raid took place as the administration of US President Barack Obama was working on a new set of sanctions against North Korea that were unveiled last month, targeting the assets of individuals, companies and organizations allegedly linked to support for its nuclear program.
North Korea has repeatedly tried to circumvent international strictures designed to stymie its production of missiles and nuclear material and other weapons of mass destruction.
Taiwanese companies are no strangers to sanction-busting attempts. Early last year, Shanghai's Roc-Master Manufacture & Supply Co ordered pressure gauges with possible nuclear weapons applications from Taiwan's Heli-Ocean Technology Co. Using backdated purchase orders, the Chinese firm had Heli-Ocean ship them to Iran. The transaction violated international sanctions on exporting sensitive equipment to Tehran, which many in the international community suspect is trying to make nuclear weapons.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Huang said the machine tools were originally ordered “more than a year ago,” but were shipped only after Ho Li's Chinese client, Dandong Fang Lian Trading Co in China's Liaoning Province, was able to pay for them.
While acknowledging that the tools ended up in North Korea, he said he had no idea how they would be used or why they would appear on any list of sanctioned items.
The North Korean machine tool deal was first reported yesterday in the Chinese-language Liberty Times (the Taipei Times' sister paper). An official with the Taipei branch of the Ministry of Justice's Investigation Bureau, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the machine tool shipment violated international sanctions and Taiwanese trade laws. He did not identify the items in question or specify why they violated sanctions.
He said that Dandong Fang Lian is managed by a North Korean national with an unspecified connection to the North's military, and that the machine tools had ended up in the North's Sinuiju region, across the Yalu River from Dandong. Sinuiju is the gateway for most Chinese goods entering North Korea.
“Ho Li sold two machine tools ... without reporting to the authorities that the equipment was really going to North Korea,” the official said. “We became aware of the violation and when we raided Ho Li in late July, we found e-mails and money transfer documents to prove our case,” the official said.
Huang said Dandong Fang Lian specializes in diesel engines and power generators, and that while he had done business with the company before, that was the first time he had shipped machine tools to the firm.