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UN: North Korea Renamed Ships to Evade Sanctions

FILE - North Korean sailors stand on the deck of the North Korean-flagged cargo ship Chong Chon Gang in Sherman Bay near Colon City, Panama, February 12, 2014.

A United Nations report says a North Korea shipping company, which has in the past been caught trying to transfer illicit weapons, has evaded sanctions against it by renaming and transferring ownership of most of its vessels.

The report, written by a group of experts that monitors sanctions against North Korea, also says Pyongyang "continued to defy Security Council resolutions by persisting with its nuclear and ballistic missile programs."

North Korea is subject to a wide array of restrictions on the import and export of weapons, nuclear and missile technology, and luxury goods. But it has continued to find creative ways to work around those sanctions.

The North's state-owned Ocean Maritime Management Company (OMM) has been under U.N. Security Council sanctions after one of its ships was stopped in Panama in 2013 while trying to transfer undeclared weapons from Cuba.

The weapons, which included Soviet era fighter jets, missiles and ammunition, were hidden under a cargo of sugar aboard the Chong Chon Gang, which was trying to pass through the Panama Canal.

In the months after OMM was blacklisted, the company continued to operate by disguising the ships in its fleet, according to the report.

"Thus far, 13 of the 14 vessels controlled by OMM have been renamed, their ownership transferred to other single ship owner companies [with names derived from the ship's new names] and vessel management transferred to two main companies," it added.

The report said the company is still doing business with individuals and entities in at least 10 countries: Brazil, China, Egypt, Greece, Japan, Malaysia, Peru, Russia, Singapore, and Thailand.

The panel of experts recommends imposing new sanctions on the 34 OMM shell companies, as well as on the company's ships.

The report also warned that North Korean diplomats and officials continue to play key roles in arranging illicit arms transfers. It particularly focused on the role of North Korean intelligence agents, which it said were using their positions at international organizations as a cover to procure the weapons.