South Korea has for the first time placed sanctions on a former South Korean national for setting up business entities to bypass United Nations Security Council resolutions against North Korea and its nuclear weapons program.
Choi Chon Gon is suspected of engaging in illicit financial deals on behalf of Pyongyang, Seoul’s foreign ministry said Wednesday, including co-investing in a Russia-based trade company, Epsilon, with a North Korean.
Choi fled South Korea while under investigation by local authorities, Yonhap reports, and is now based in Vladivostok, having acquired Russian citizenship.
The 66-year-old set up a front company, Hanne Ulaan, in Mongolia in 2019 through which authorities in Seoul believe he acquired goods for Pyongyang, including foodstuffs, estimated to be worth more than $7.6 million.
South Korea also put sanctions for the first time on his North Korean accomplice, So Myong, of North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank in Vladivostok, and the company they co-invested in, Epsilon, as well as Hanne Ulaan in Mongolia.
North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank, responsible for the regime’s overseas currencies, was placed under sanction by the United Nations Security Council in 2017.
Seoul hopes that by casting a wide sanctions net centered around Choi, they can prevent the former national from accessing South Korean financial resources, as well as raise awareness of the group’s operations.
Choi and Hanne Ulaan were mentioned in a U.N. Security Council Sanctions Committee panel of experts’ report in 2021 which noted that Mongolian authorities had frozen $13,800 in funds after documents flagged their suspected ties to North Korea.