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Vietnam Investigating North Korean Bank Accounts

Vietnam is acting on a U.S. request to see whether North Korea has opened accounts in several Vietnamese banks. If it finds that the money in these accounts came from illegal activities, Vietnam says it will shut the accounts down.

Vietnamese State Bank governor Le Duc Thuy said Tuesday that a number of Vietnamese banks are investigating accounts allegedly belonging to North Korea.

Thuy says U.S. Undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism Stuart Levey requested the investigations when he visited Vietnam last week.

Washington accuses Pyongyang of using banks to launder money from illegal operations, and the Bush administration is moving to punish financial institutions that do business with North Korea.

Last September, the government of Macau froze the assets of Banco Delta Asia, after the U.S. said the bank was helping North Korea to launder money.

The Bloomberg news agency has quoted a U.S. government report as saying Pyongyang has recently opened new accounts in Vietnam and nine other countries, including Russia and Mongolia.

But Vietnam's improving relations with the United States, and its eagerness to join the World Trade Organization this year, may have rendered it unsafe for North Korean business.

State Bank governor Thuy says the accounts in Vietnamese banks will be closed if they are found to have been involved in illegal transactions.

Washington says North Korea obtains a major portion of its foreign currency from such activities as counterfeiting of U.S. currency, the sale of narcotics, and sales of missile technology.

Treasury Undersecretary Levey said last week that distinguishing between legal and illegal North Korean money is almost impossible.