The U.S. Department of Justice unsealed an indictment charging 28 North Korean and 5 Chinese individuals (“Defendants”) with facilitating more than $2.5 billion in illegal payments for Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and missile program through North Korea’s state-owned Foreign Trade Bank (“FTB”). DOJ alleges that the scheme involved “covert branches” of FTB in China, Russia, Libya, Austria, Kuwait and Thailand that provided services and engaged in prohibited U.S. dollar transactions for FTB in violation of U.S. sanctions.

The Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) had added FTB to the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (“SDN”) list on March 11, 2013 as part of its efforts to impede North Korea’s ballistic missile and weapons of mass destruction programs. In the indictment, FTB is alleged to have directed Defendants and others to open and operate FTB branches in violation of U.S. sanctions and banking regulations. Specifically, the Defendants are alleged to have conspired through an elaborate global scheme involving over 250 front companies to: transact in U.S. dollars with SDNs barred from the U.S. financial system; facilitate the purchase of products and services for North Korean users; and evade U.S. licensing requirements and regulations prohibiting the export of financial services to FTB. The indictment charges the Defendants with counts of conspiracy, violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), bank fraud, money laundering, and continuing a financial crimes enterprise.

According to comments from the acting U.S. attorney for D.C., “Through this indictment, the United States has signified its commitment to hampering North Korea’s ability to illegally access the U.S. financial system, and to limiting its ability to use proceeds from these illicit actions to enhance its illegal weapons of mass destruction program.”