This article is the first of a series produced by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies exclusively for NK News. For this series, we’ve chosen to focus on the legal (mis)adventures of North Korean entities and individuals overseas.
Even as diplomacy between the United States and the DPRK continues, North Korea endeavors to bring in currency to sustain itself and, potentially, contribute to its nuclear and missile programs.
The DPRK faces hurdles to doing so, most notably through the sanctions regime endorsed—and given the weight of international law—by the United Nations.
Yet North Korea continues to conduct activities that the sanctions regime seeks to prevent, and Pyongyang’s illicit activities—whether further investment in its nuclear or missile programs, the import of banned luxury goods, or the export of prohibited commodities—all rely on one thing: money.
The sanctions regime has limited North Korea’s ability to access the international financial system. Yet, through foreign facilitators and its own evasive practices, Pyongyang continues to earn and spend foreign currency.
ENTER BULK CASH TRANSFERS
One of the strategies North Korea employs to circumvent sanctions is the use of bulk cash transfers. The UN Panel of Experts established pursuant to resolution 1874 (2009), which is tasked with assessing the implementation of UN sanctions on North Korea, has documented North Korean bulk cash transfers in its reports.
The UN Security Council has also drawn particular attention to this issue in resolutions 2087 (2013) and 2321 (2016), formally alerting Member States to the use of bulk cash transfers to circumvent sanctions.
It in this context that the activities of North Korean nationals caught or accused of bulk cash smuggling take on additional significance. Russian authorities have caught several such individuals, and the way Russia has handled their prosecutions sheds light on the country’s implementation of the UN sanctions regime.
In Russia, undeclared cash transfers like those the Panel describes in its reports are criminalized under Article 200.1 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, which covers the undeclared import or export of currency valued over $10,000.
A review of cases filed in relation to Article 200.1 and accessed via the online portal found three instances of attempted bulk cash transfers that merit particular attention.
The stories of the three DPRK nationals involved—as told through successive court filings—offer a unique view into how Russia handles cases of potential relevance to sanctions on North Korea.