BEIJING—U.S. authorities have accused a Chinese company of helping North Korea evade financial sanctions and asked a court to seize $1.9 million they said was improperly moved through American financial institutions.
A complaint released June 15 in Washington accused Mingzheng International Trading Ltd. of conducting transactions for North Korea’s state-owned Foreign Trade Bank, the country’s main foreign-exchange bank. The bank is barred from the U.S. financial system under sanctions imposed in response to the North’s nuclear weapons development.
The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump is trying to step up economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea.
The Department of Justice said the case would represent one of the largest U.S. seizures of North Korean funds. It gave no details of which U.S. financial institutions were used by Mingzheng International Trading.
There is no phone listing in Shenyang for Mingzheng International Trading. People who answered the phone at another company in Shenyang with a somewhat similar name, Mingchang Century Trading Ltd., hung up when asked about the U.S. accusation.
Beijing has long been North Korea’s main source of aid and diplomatic support but President Xi Jinping’s government is showing growing frustration with Pyongyang’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Despite sanctions, experts say North Korea operates through covert offices or foreign companies abroad to obtain foreign currency and materials that can be used by its weapons program.
Chinese officials told U.S. diplomats in May they had tightened inspections and policing along the border with North Korea, according to Acting Assistant Secretary of State Susan Thornton.
Mingzheng International Trading, based in the northeastern city of Shenyang, is accused of making transactions in October and November of 2015 on behalf of Foreign Trade Bank.
“Mingzheng acts a front company for a covert Chinese branch of the Foreign Trade Bank,” said the announcement. “This branch is operated by a Chinese national who has historically been tied to the Foreign Trade Bank.”
Chinese authorities announced in September they were investigating another company, Hongxiang Industrial Development Co., which foreign researchers said sold North Korea materials that can be used by its nuclear weapons program. The results have not been announced.