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Panama Seeks Eight-Year Sentence for Crew of N. Korean Ship

Panamanian presidential security walks on the deck aboard a North Korean-flagged ship at the Manzanillo International container terminal on the coast of Colon City, Panama, July 16, 2013.
Prosecutors in Panama have asked for eight-year prison terms for the captain and two North Korean sailors of a ship that was found illegally transporting weaponry last year.

The prosecutor in the case, Robert Moreno, said in an interview with VOA’s Korean service that he asked for the lighter sentence because the defense had requested a speedy trial. He said prosecutors must reduce the sentence they are seeking by one third if the defense asks for a speedy trial.

Authorities in Panama seized the Chong Chon Gang last July after reports circulated that the North Korean-flagged ship was transporting illegal drugs. Instead, the vessel was found to be carrying weapons in violation of international sanctions against North Korea.

At the start of the trial Wednesday, the North Koreans pled not guilty, saying they were just following orders; but Moreno countered it was not a valid defense because their orders from Pyongyang were not lawful.

The presiding judge is expected to rule in the case within a month.

Thirty-two of the ship’s crew members were released in February after North Korea paid $690,000 in fines; however, the ship’s captain and two others were charged for trafficking illegal weapons.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Korean service.
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    Jee Abbey Lee

    Jee Abbey Lee is a veteran broadcast journalist with more than 10 years of experience in TV, radio, and the web. She serves as Voice of America's social media correspondent and is an expert of millennial lifestyle. 

    Lee received her graduate degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Prior to joining VOA, she worked at the Seoul bureau of CNN Travel and served as the chief Bank of Korea correspondent for Arirang TV.