‘Leakage’ of Coal From North to South Korea Worries Experts

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Following Seoul’s announcement that South Korean companies have illegally imported North Korean coal, U.S. experts are worried about North Korean trade that contravenes international sanctions.

The Korea Customs Service (KCS) announced earlier this month that three South Korean companies illegally imported North Korean coal that was transshipped at Russian ports, in violation of United Nations resolutions.

The U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution on August 5, 2017, banning North Korea from exporting coal, iron, lead and other materials. Another resolution later that year, on December 22, called for U.N. members to seize and inspect vessels suspected of transporting prohibited items. 

According to the KCS, in seven shipments between April and October of last year, three South Korean companies imported a total of 35,038 tons of North Korean coal and pig iron with a combined worth of $5.81 million.

North Korean coal on ships registered under a third country set sail either from its ports of Songlim, Wonsan, Chongjin and Daean, and the cargoes were transshipped via the Russian ports of Kholmsk, Vladivostock and Nakhodka before arriving at the South Korean ports of Dangjin, Pohang, Masan, Incheon and Donghae.

Action by Seoul

The South Korean government is now seeking the prosecution of the three companies for the illicit import of the materials and forging customs documents to state the coal and pig iron were of Russian origin. It also banned four ships – the Sky Angel, Rich Glory, Shining Rich and Jin Long – that transported the coal to South Korea from entering its ports. 

Sanctions experts said South Korea’s illegal import of banned North Korean coal is a major violation of U.N. sanctions and that the U.N. panel of experts on North Korea may want to try to further investigate the ships that transported the coal to South Korea. 

“It’s major in the sense that North Korea is very skilled at getting around sanctions,” said Robert Huish, a sanctions expert at Canada’s Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  “The issue with this is that when sanctions are put in place, they are never simple because the target, which is North Korea, will always have the chance to circumvent them.” 

George Lopez, former member of the U.N. Panel of Experts for monitoring and implementing U.N. sanction on North Korea, said although he does not think the U.S. or U.N. will open a new investigation into the case, the panel of experts “may want to follow their own linkages to other sanctions violations, especially regarding particular ships and their owners and insurers.”

Lopez continued, “Their own connecting of the dots might lead to a critique of the [South Korea] customs service or an encouragement to other nations to follow this case as a model.” 

Joshua Stanton, a Washington-based attorney who helped draft the North Korean Sanctions Enforcement Act for the House Foreign Affairs Committee, thinks the U.S. or U.N. should probe the case further if there is an indication that the South Korean government knowingly committed the illegal acts.

“If the evidence shows South Korea did it willfully or that it stood by after having enough knowledge to know that the coal was North Korean, they should be sanctioned [by the U.S.],” Stanton said. “I think there are things that the U.S. law enforcement and the U.N. panel of experts can investigate and should investigate. And the fact that the South Korean government denies it, is not persuasive to me.” 

Some experts are concerned that South Korea’s illicit import could have a significant impact on the U.S. policy to apply maximum pressure on North Korea. 

“Sanctions leakage does lessen the pressure on Pyongyang,” said Troy Stangarone, senior director at Korea Economic Institute specializing in South Korean trade and North Korea, adding, “North Korea has a long history of working to evade sanctions, and it is unsurprising that some of its efforts are coming to light.”

Length of investigation

The South Korean government faced a criticism that the investigations into this case, which took over 10 months, were overly drawn out, reflecting its reluctance to enforce sanctions. 

In an interview with VOA’s Korean Service last week in Seoul, Cho Hyun, the vice foreign minister of South Korea, said the pace of the investigation reflected nothing other than a desire for accuracy.

“It took time to accurately probe the case, and following the principle of being presumed innocent until guilty, [we] could not inform [the public of the investigation] in the interim period,” he said.

Kim Yung-moon, the commissioner of Korean customs, also told VOA’s Korean Service that it took time to prove the coal was actually from North Korea.

“Because the North Korean coal entered [South Korea] after being transshipped from Russia, taking three months at times, we needed to prove that the coals were, in fact, from North Korea,” he said.

The Trump administration remains cautious about making accusations against the South Korean government for failing to enforce sanctions, stressing the importance of fully implementing U.N. sanctions. 

The U.S. Treasury Department said in an email sent to VOA last week, the “Treasury strictly enforces OFAC (Office of Foreign Asset Control) sanctions and U.N. Security Council Resolutions prohibiting illicit transactions with North Korea and works closely with our South Korean partners to continue to implement existing sanctions.” It further stated that the department does not speculate publicly on possible violations. 

In July, the State Department issued a “North Korea Sanctions and Enforcement Actions Advisory” warning that businesses “should be aware of deceptive practices employed by North Korea,” emphasizing that the OFAC has “authority to impose sanctions on any person determined to … have sold, supplied, transferred, or purchased, directly or indirectly, to or from North Korea or any person acting for or on behalf of the government of North Korea.” The advisory was distributed in five foreign languages, including Korean.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on two Russian individuals, three companies, and six Russian-flagged ships for doing business with North Korea.

Christy Lee of the VOA Korean Service contributed to this report.

‘Leakage’ of Coal From North to South Korea Worries Experts

All, Business, News

Following Seoul’s announcement that South Korean companies have illegally imported North Korean coal, U.S. experts are worried about North Korean trade that contravenes international sanctions.

The Korea Customs Service (KCS) announced earlier this month that three South Korean companies illegally imported North Korean coal that was transshipped at Russian ports, in violation of United Nations resolutions.

The U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution on August 5, 2017, banning North Korea from exporting coal, iron, lead and other materials. Another resolution later that year, on December 22, called for U.N. members to seize and inspect vessels suspected of transporting prohibited items. 

According to the KCS, in seven shipments between April and October of last year, three South Korean companies imported a total of 35,038 tons of North Korean coal and pig iron with a combined worth of $5.81 million.

North Korean coal on ships registered under a third country set sail either from its ports of Songlim, Wonsan, Chongjin and Daean, and the cargoes were transshipped via the Russian ports of Kholmsk, Vladivostock and Nakhodka before arriving at the South Korean ports of Dangjin, Pohang, Masan, Incheon and Donghae.

Action by Seoul

The South Korean government is now seeking the prosecution of the three companies for the illicit import of the materials and forging customs documents to state the coal and pig iron were of Russian origin. It also banned four ships – the Sky Angel, Rich Glory, Shining Rich and Jin Long – that transported the coal to South Korea from entering its ports. 

Sanctions experts said South Korea’s illegal import of banned North Korean coal is a major violation of U.N. sanctions and that the U.N. panel of experts on North Korea may want to try to further investigate the ships that transported the coal to South Korea. 

“It’s major in the sense that North Korea is very skilled at getting around sanctions,” said Robert Huish, a sanctions expert at Canada’s Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  “The issue with this is that when sanctions are put in place, they are never simple because the target, which is North Korea, will always have the chance to circumvent them.” 

George Lopez, former member of the U.N. Panel of Experts for monitoring and implementing U.N. sanction on North Korea, said although he does not think the U.S. or U.N. will open a new investigation into the case, the panel of experts “may want to follow their own linkages to other sanctions violations, especially regarding particular ships and their owners and insurers.”

Lopez continued, “Their own connecting of the dots might lead to a critique of the [South Korea] customs service or an encouragement to other nations to follow this case as a model.” 

Joshua Stanton, a Washington-based attorney who helped draft the North Korean Sanctions Enforcement Act for the House Foreign Affairs Committee, thinks the U.S. or U.N. should probe the case further if there is an indication that the South Korean government knowingly committed the illegal acts.

“If the evidence shows South Korea did it willfully or that it stood by after having enough knowledge to know that the coal was North Korean, they should be sanctioned [by the U.S.],” Stanton said. “I think there are things that the U.S. law enforcement and the U.N. panel of experts can investigate and should investigate. And the fact that the South Korean government denies it, is not persuasive to me.” 

Some experts are concerned that South Korea’s illicit import could have a significant impact on the U.S. policy to apply maximum pressure on North Korea. 

“Sanctions leakage does lessen the pressure on Pyongyang,” said Troy Stangarone, senior director at Korea Economic Institute specializing in South Korean trade and North Korea, adding, “North Korea has a long history of working to evade sanctions, and it is unsurprising that some of its efforts are coming to light.”

Length of investigation

The South Korean government faced a criticism that the investigations into this case, which took over 10 months, were overly drawn out, reflecting its reluctance to enforce sanctions. 

In an interview with VOA’s Korean Service last week in Seoul, Cho Hyun, the vice foreign minister of South Korea, said the pace of the investigation reflected nothing other than a desire for accuracy.

“It took time to accurately probe the case, and following the principle of being presumed innocent until guilty, [we] could not inform [the public of the investigation] in the interim period,” he said.

Kim Yung-moon, the commissioner of Korean customs, also told VOA’s Korean Service that it took time to prove the coal was actually from North Korea.

“Because the North Korean coal entered [South Korea] after being transshipped from Russia, taking three months at times, we needed to prove that the coals were, in fact, from North Korea,” he said.

The Trump administration remains cautious about making accusations against the South Korean government for failing to enforce sanctions, stressing the importance of fully implementing U.N. sanctions. 

The U.S. Treasury Department said in an email sent to VOA last week, the “Treasury strictly enforces OFAC (Office of Foreign Asset Control) sanctions and U.N. Security Council Resolutions prohibiting illicit transactions with North Korea and works closely with our South Korean partners to continue to implement existing sanctions.” It further stated that the department does not speculate publicly on possible violations. 

In July, the State Department issued a “North Korea Sanctions and Enforcement Actions Advisory” warning that businesses “should be aware of deceptive practices employed by North Korea,” emphasizing that the OFAC has “authority to impose sanctions on any person determined to … have sold, supplied, transferred, or purchased, directly or indirectly, to or from North Korea or any person acting for or on behalf of the government of North Korea.” The advisory was distributed in five foreign languages, including Korean.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on two Russian individuals, three companies, and six Russian-flagged ships for doing business with North Korea.

Christy Lee of the VOA Korean Service contributed to this report.

Facebook, Twitter Remove Accounts Linked to Iran, Russia

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Social media giants Facebook and Twitter said they have removed hundreds of pages and accounts linked to Russia and Iran ahead of the midterm elections in the U.S.

Facebook said it had removed 254 Facebook pages and 116 Instagram accounts that originated in Iran and were part of a disinformation campaign that targeted countries around the world, including the U.S. and Britain.

 

The social media companies acted on a tip from cybersecurity firm FireEye, which said on Tuesday that the accounts were promoting Iranian propaganda, including discussion of “anti-Saudi, anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian themes.”

“We’ve removed 652 Pages, groups and accounts for coordinated inauthentic behavior that originated in Iran and targeted people across multiple internet services in the Middle East, Latin America, UK and US,” Nathaniel Gleicher, head of cybersecurity policy at Facebook, said in a blog post.

The removals comes weeks after the company took down several pages of disinformation originating in Russia. On Tuesday, Facebook said it had found more such pages and had removed them. But the company said the Russian pages don’t appear to be linked to the ones originating in Iran.

Also Tuesday, Twitter said it had identified and removed 284 accounts for “engaging in coordinated manipulation” that it said “appeared to have originated in Iran.”

The announcements come after Microsoft said it had taken control of websites it said were trying to hack into conservative American think tanks and the U.S. Senate.

Microsoft said it executed a court order to gain control of six websites linked to the group behind the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee.

Facebook, Twitter Remove Accounts Linked to Iran, Russia

All, News, Technology

Social media giants Facebook and Twitter said they have removed hundreds of pages and accounts linked to Russia and Iran ahead of the midterm elections in the U.S.

Facebook said it had removed 254 Facebook pages and 116 Instagram accounts that originated in Iran and were part of a disinformation campaign that targeted countries around the world, including the U.S. and Britain.

 

The social media companies acted on a tip from cybersecurity firm FireEye, which said on Tuesday that the accounts were promoting Iranian propaganda, including discussion of “anti-Saudi, anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian themes.”

“We’ve removed 652 Pages, groups and accounts for coordinated inauthentic behavior that originated in Iran and targeted people across multiple internet services in the Middle East, Latin America, UK and US,” Nathaniel Gleicher, head of cybersecurity policy at Facebook, said in a blog post.

The removals comes weeks after the company took down several pages of disinformation originating in Russia. On Tuesday, Facebook said it had found more such pages and had removed them. But the company said the Russian pages don’t appear to be linked to the ones originating in Iran.

Also Tuesday, Twitter said it had identified and removed 284 accounts for “engaging in coordinated manipulation” that it said “appeared to have originated in Iran.”

The announcements come after Microsoft said it had taken control of websites it said were trying to hack into conservative American think tanks and the U.S. Senate.

Microsoft said it executed a court order to gain control of six websites linked to the group behind the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee.

Chile’s Pinera Promises to Spur Investment with Tax Reform

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Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said on Tuesday that his overhaul of the country’s tax structure would “modernize” Chile’s revenue system and stimulate investment by local and foreign companies.

The conservative leader said in a televised address that reform would, among other proposals, calibrate taxes paid by conventional companies with those paid by digital technology companies. The reform aims “to create a simpler and more equitable and fully integrated tax system for all Chilean companies.”

Digital commerce companies with local operations like Netflix and Uber are likely to be affected under the reform.

E-commerce is gaining traction in Latin America after a slow start. Last month, an Amazon Web Services vice president met with Pinera to discuss Amazon investing in the country as part of a longer-term regional expansion plan.

Pinera, a billionaire second-term president, whose first term as president was marred by protests over rising inequality, in June detailed a $26 billion spending plan and called for unity as Chile continues its “vigorous march towards development.”

Chile’s Pinera Promises to Spur Investment with Tax Reform

All, Business, News

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said on Tuesday that his overhaul of the country’s tax structure would “modernize” Chile’s revenue system and stimulate investment by local and foreign companies.

The conservative leader said in a televised address that reform would, among other proposals, calibrate taxes paid by conventional companies with those paid by digital technology companies. The reform aims “to create a simpler and more equitable and fully integrated tax system for all Chilean companies.”

Digital commerce companies with local operations like Netflix and Uber are likely to be affected under the reform.

E-commerce is gaining traction in Latin America after a slow start. Last month, an Amazon Web Services vice president met with Pinera to discuss Amazon investing in the country as part of a longer-term regional expansion plan.

Pinera, a billionaire second-term president, whose first term as president was marred by protests over rising inequality, in June detailed a $26 billion spending plan and called for unity as Chile continues its “vigorous march towards development.”

With Sensors and Apps, Young African Coders Compete to Curb Hunger

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From an app to diagnose disease on Zambian farms to Tinder-style matchmaking for Senegalese land owners and young farmers, young coders have been finding solutions to hunger in the first Africa-wide hackathon on the issue.

Eight teams competed in the hackathon, organized by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and a Rwandan trade organization in the country’s capital Kigali this week.

Experts say keeping young people in farming is key to alleviating hunger in Africa, which has 65 percent of the world’s uncultivated arable land, but spends $35 billion a year on importing food for its growing population.

“In our families, agriculture is no longer a good business. They don’t get the return,” said Rwandan Ndayisaba Wilson, 24, whose team proposed a $400 solar-powered device that can optimize water and fertilizer use.

“We believe that if the technology is good and farmers can see the benefits, they will adopt it.”

Among the proposed solutions were an app that links aspiring farmers with land owners in Senegal and a Nigerian mobile platform that uses blockchain to help farmers demonstrate their creditworthiness to lenders.

The winner was AgriPredict, an app already operating in Zambia that that can help farmers identify diseases and pests – including the voracious fall armyworm, which eats crops and has wreaked havoc in much of sub-Saharan Africa.

Farmers can access it directly from their phones or via Facebook. CEO Mwila Kangwa, 31, said the initiative came out of the twin disasters that hit Zambian farmers in 2016 – tuta absoluta, a tomato disease, and the fall armyworm.

“We noticed there were no tools whatsoever that will help farmers mitigate or prevent or even counter these diseases so we came up with this idea of creating a software to help farmers,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

As winners, the Zambian team will receive coaching from the FAO to refine their product and an opportunity to meet potential funders and partners.

“What they brought was a technically sound solution … and the ability to convey the message to young people by using, for example, Facebook,” said Henry van Burgsteden, IT officer for digital innovation at the FAO and one of the judges.

The hackathon was held during a conference in Kigali on ways to attract more young people to agriculture through information and communication technology tools.

High unemployment and the challenges of rural life mean many young people desert farming for the city, while aging farmers struggle with climate change, poverty and poor infrastructure.

With Sensors and Apps, Young African Coders Compete to Curb Hunger

All, News, Technology

From an app to diagnose disease on Zambian farms to Tinder-style matchmaking for Senegalese land owners and young farmers, young coders have been finding solutions to hunger in the first Africa-wide hackathon on the issue.

Eight teams competed in the hackathon, organized by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and a Rwandan trade organization in the country’s capital Kigali this week.

Experts say keeping young people in farming is key to alleviating hunger in Africa, which has 65 percent of the world’s uncultivated arable land, but spends $35 billion a year on importing food for its growing population.

“In our families, agriculture is no longer a good business. They don’t get the return,” said Rwandan Ndayisaba Wilson, 24, whose team proposed a $400 solar-powered device that can optimize water and fertilizer use.

“We believe that if the technology is good and farmers can see the benefits, they will adopt it.”

Among the proposed solutions were an app that links aspiring farmers with land owners in Senegal and a Nigerian mobile platform that uses blockchain to help farmers demonstrate their creditworthiness to lenders.

The winner was AgriPredict, an app already operating in Zambia that that can help farmers identify diseases and pests – including the voracious fall armyworm, which eats crops and has wreaked havoc in much of sub-Saharan Africa.

Farmers can access it directly from their phones or via Facebook. CEO Mwila Kangwa, 31, said the initiative came out of the twin disasters that hit Zambian farmers in 2016 – tuta absoluta, a tomato disease, and the fall armyworm.

“We noticed there were no tools whatsoever that will help farmers mitigate or prevent or even counter these diseases so we came up with this idea of creating a software to help farmers,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

As winners, the Zambian team will receive coaching from the FAO to refine their product and an opportunity to meet potential funders and partners.

“What they brought was a technically sound solution … and the ability to convey the message to young people by using, for example, Facebook,” said Henry van Burgsteden, IT officer for digital innovation at the FAO and one of the judges.

The hackathon was held during a conference in Kigali on ways to attract more young people to agriculture through information and communication technology tools.

High unemployment and the challenges of rural life mean many young people desert farming for the city, while aging farmers struggle with climate change, poverty and poor infrastructure.

IATA: Mexico’s New Airport Crucial for Passenger Growth

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Mexico risks losing long-term passenger growth and billions of dollars if it fails to go through with building a new hub in the capital to alleviate congestion, an executive with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said on Tuesday.

Mexico’s incoming government last week postponed a decision on whether to complete a partially constructed new airport in Mexico City, saying the public should be consulted on the fate of the $13-billion hub, which the next president initially opposed.

President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said the project was tainted by corruption prior to his July 1 landslide election victory, and had pressed for an existing military airport north of the capital to be expanded instead.

Without the new airport, around 20 million fewer passengers would fly to Mexico City starting in 2035, year over year, said Peter Cerda, regional vice president in the Americas for IATA.

It would also mean a long-term loss of $20 billion from Mexico’s GDP and cost the country 200,000 jobs, according to an airline-industry study on the financial impact of not building the new airport, Cerda said.

IATA, the Montreal-based trade association, has 290 member airlines which together transport about 82 percent of global air traffic.

Passenger traffic is expected to double by 2035 on a global basis, including Latin America, Cerda said in an interview.

“If you don’t build an airport that’s able to meet the needs of the next 50 years you just cannot continue to grow,” Cerda said on the sidelines of the International Aviation Forecast Summit in Denver. “And that has financial implications for the country.”

Work began on the new airport, which is a few miles northeast of the current one, in 2015. The present airport, located in the east of Mexico City, has become increasingly saturated by rising air traffic and has no room to expand.

“This is an airport that was built for 32 million passengers a year and currently we have 45 million passengers traveling through,” Cerda said.

Cerda urged Mexico to make any decision on “technical justifications” rather than “public outcry that may not fully understand the consequences.”

IATA: Mexico’s New Airport Crucial for Passenger Growth

All, Business, News

Mexico risks losing long-term passenger growth and billions of dollars if it fails to go through with building a new hub in the capital to alleviate congestion, an executive with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said on Tuesday.

Mexico’s incoming government last week postponed a decision on whether to complete a partially constructed new airport in Mexico City, saying the public should be consulted on the fate of the $13-billion hub, which the next president initially opposed.

President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said the project was tainted by corruption prior to his July 1 landslide election victory, and had pressed for an existing military airport north of the capital to be expanded instead.

Without the new airport, around 20 million fewer passengers would fly to Mexico City starting in 2035, year over year, said Peter Cerda, regional vice president in the Americas for IATA.

It would also mean a long-term loss of $20 billion from Mexico’s GDP and cost the country 200,000 jobs, according to an airline-industry study on the financial impact of not building the new airport, Cerda said.

IATA, the Montreal-based trade association, has 290 member airlines which together transport about 82 percent of global air traffic.

Passenger traffic is expected to double by 2035 on a global basis, including Latin America, Cerda said in an interview.

“If you don’t build an airport that’s able to meet the needs of the next 50 years you just cannot continue to grow,” Cerda said on the sidelines of the International Aviation Forecast Summit in Denver. “And that has financial implications for the country.”

Work began on the new airport, which is a few miles northeast of the current one, in 2015. The present airport, located in the east of Mexico City, has become increasingly saturated by rising air traffic and has no room to expand.

“This is an airport that was built for 32 million passengers a year and currently we have 45 million passengers traveling through,” Cerda said.

Cerda urged Mexico to make any decision on “technical justifications” rather than “public outcry that may not fully understand the consequences.”