The secretive state is continuing to flout international sanctions by using a range of “deceptive shipping practices” to smuggle out the fossil fuel and exchange it for cash as dictator Kim scrambles to fund his weapons programme in a desperate bid to develop a nuclear missile capable of hitting the United States.
A new report issued by the US Treasury Department has exposed a range of the methods used by the hermit kingdom to illegally trade in one of its few remaining commodities.
The underhanded tactics include forging cargo documents, transferring cargo at sea away from the eyes of port officials and disabling any devices which can be used to track its vessels.
The revelation comes after Western security sources claimed Russia is complicit in helping Kim Jong-un’s regime dodge UN sanctions by allowing its ports to be used as hubs for smuggled coal.
Issuing its latest advisory notice warning of the dangers of trading with the communist state, the US Treasury Department said: “As the global community increases its pressure, North Korea continues to deploy deceptive practices with respect to shipping to evade sanctions.
“As part of the maximum pressure campaign against North Korea, the United States is committed to disrupting North Korea’s illicit funding of its weapons programmes, regardless of the location or nationality of those facilitating such funding.
“The North Korean shipping industry is a primary means by which North Korea evades sanctions to fund its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes.”
According to the report, North Korean-flagged merchant ships departing from ports in the hermit state are often disguised as other vessels, with the crew painting fake identification numbers on the hull in an “attempt to pass themselves off as different vessels”.
Kim Jong-un’s regime is also engaging in “ship-to-ship transfers” in the East China Sea, unloading cargo from North Korean ships which would likely be subject to extra scrutiny by port officials, to vessels registered in other countries which are less likely to be searched.
And despite North Korea suffering from widespread and frequent blackouts, Kim Jong-un’s regime has also reportedly struck a deal to sell off the country’s electricity to neighbouring China.
According to the Seoul-based Daily NK, Beijing has agreed to pay between £43,600 ($60,000) and £72,600 ($100,000) each month for power generated by a hydroelectric dam close to the border between the two countries.
The facility is reportedly used to power an arms factory, but the surplus will be funneled off under the deal agreed earlier this month.
A source from the province around the dam told Daily NK: “The Supong Hydroelectric Generator in Sakju County is providing the energy to a Chinese factory that produces fire-proofing materials.
“The North Korean authorities are accepting payments in the form of cash.”
Less than one in there North Koreans have access to electricity, according to estimates by the World Bank.
Nighttime satellite pictures from above the secretive state show very few lights on across the country, save for a small bright patch around the capital Pyongyang.