WASHINGTON: The US Treasury announced sanctions on Russian and Chinese companies on Wednesday (Aug 15) for violating the economic embargo on North Korea as Washington seeks to maintain pressure on Pyongyang over its nuclear programme.
The Treasury accused China-based Dalian Sun Moon Star International Logistics Trading and its Singapore-based affiliate, SINSMS, of falsifying documents to facilitate shipments of alcohol and cigarettes to North Korea.
Those shipments helped fuel what the Treasury alleged was a huge "illicit" cigarette trade earning the Pyongyang regime US$1 billion a year.
It also blacklisted Russia-based Profinet for violating UN sanctions by providing loading and refuelling services to sanctioned North Korean-flagged ships at three eastern Russia ports.
Also named was Profinet director general Vasili Aleksandrovich Kolchanov, whom the Treasury said "was personally involved" in deals with the North Koreans.
"Treasury reminds the shipping industry ... of the significant risks posed by North Korea's shipping practices," the Treasury said in a statement.
The Chinese trading company acknowledged that it has shipped cigarettes and alcohol to North Korea but denied any wrongdoing.
"We shipped them through China customs clearance, it's all legal, and we have all the necessary legal formalities," the director of Dalian Sun Moon Star International Logistics Trading, Liang Ye, told AFP by telephone.
"We can only suspend our business now," Liang said. "The company might go bankrupt. The sanctions have a huge impact on us."
Despite having opened direct talks with Pyongyang, Washington continues to enforce the embargo on trade with North Korea in order to put pressure on the country to end its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programme.
"Treasury will continue to implement existing sanctions on North Korea, and will take action to block and designate companies, ports, and vessels that facilitate illicit shipments and provide revenue streams to the DPRK," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in the statement Wednesday.
"Consequences for violating these sanctions will remain in place until we have achieved the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea."
On Tuesday, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said those talks are making progress "in the right direction," two months after President Donald Trump held a groundbreaking summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore.
"Washington should be reminded that the 'maximum pressure' approach on Pyongyang is not in keeping with the current situation on the Korean Peninsula and it needs to consider easing sanctions," Xinhua said in a commentary.
Such commentaries are not statements on official positions, but can be read as a reflection of government thinking.
China has repeatedly said it fully and strictly enforces UN resolutions on North Korea, but that it also has a right to conduct what it calls "normal trade" with the country in areas outside the scope of the sanctions.