Seizure of Egypt-bound ship reveals North Korea’s illicit trade in arms

Suez CanalThe seizure earlier this year of a North Korean ship secretly carrying thousands of weapons for use by the Egyptian military has revealed the scale of one of Pyongyang’s most profitable money-making ventures: global arms sales. Experts say that the North Korean state continues to supply thousands of tons of Cold-War-era conventional weapons to countries such as Eritrea, Cuba, Burma and Iran, as well as to some American allies, including as Egypt. There is also evidence that at least two non-state militant organizations, including the Lebanon-based group Hezbollah, are among Pyongyang’s customers. The latter take advantage of North Korea’s vast arsenal of weapons produced in the 1960s and 1970s, which are being sold on the international arms market at very low prices.

The Washington Post’s Joby Warrick reports that, in August of this year, American intelligence officials notified authorities in Egypt of a potentially suspicious transport ship named Jie Shun. The ship had been registered in Cambodia and was flying the Cambodian flag. However, its entire crew was North Korean and it had last sailed from North Korea, bound for Egypt. Its manifest said it carried hundreds of tons of iron ore. Acting on the tip from the United States, armed Egyptian customs officers boarded the ship as soon as it entered the Suez Canal. Upon inspecting the Jie Shun, the Egyptians found hidden 30,000 rocket-propelled grenades. The discovery was later described by the United Nations as “the largest seizure of ammunition in the history of sanctions against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”.

Remarkably, says Warrick, the ammunition had been purchased in secret by a consortium of Egyptian businessmen, who had hoped to resell it to the Egyptian military. It is believed that the businessmen had paid in excess of $23 million for the illicit cargo, with the money ending up in the coffers of the North Korean government. The ship’s North Korean origin had been completely hidden through its “flag of convenience” registration in Cambodia, which allowed the ship’s owners to claim that the its home port was in the Southeast Asian country. According to Warrick, who cites unnamed US officials, the discovery of the Jie Shun’s illicit cargo contributed to the recent decision of US President Donald Trump to hold back on approximately $300 million in military aid to Egypt that Washington had planned to give to Cairo in July.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 October 2017 | Permalink

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2 Responses to Seizure of Egypt-bound ship reveals North Korea’s illicit trade in arms

  1. Pete says:

    As well as the illegalities of the paltry US$23 million in North Korean arms quoted in the report there are the competitive interests of US, Western European and Russian arms exporters to factor in. http://www.madamasr.com/en/2016/12/27/news/u/us-report-egypt-topped-developing-countries-in-arms-imports-in-2015/ dated December 27, 2016, indicates:

    “Egypt imported US$5.3 billion worth of arms in 2015, more than any other developing country, according to a report released this month by Congressional Research Service [https://fas.org/sgp/crs/weapons/R44716.pdf ], a public policy research arm of the United States Congress.

    …Egypt ranked sixth among developing countries in total arms transfers agreements between 2008 and 2011, worth $8.6 billion. The US was the biggest arms exporter to Egypt in this period, with 79 percent of total arms transfer agreements, followed by China then Russia.

    …Between 2012 and 2015, Egypt ranked fourth in arms imports at a total of $9.8 billion, preceded by Saudi, India and Iraq. The report indicates that Egypt’s arms transfer agreements for this period reached $21.5 billion.

    Western European countries and Russia were major arms exporters to Egypt in this period, with 43 percent of agreements respectively, then came the US with [a less competitive] 6 percent.”

    Conclusion – So North Korea, with a cut of the pie only in the double digit $millions, is smallfry compared to much larger “legal” arms exporters.

  2. Intel_Observer says:

    Thanks @Pete, that is one factor I had not taken into account in this whole saga. By the way, I have noticed your comments are usually insightful and well-researched…have you ever worked in intelligence before?

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