The New York Times has, in recent years, built out a “Visual Investigations” team, which has often sought to assemble together video footage to shed light on world events. This has been used, in the last year, for everything from protests in multiple cities following the killing of George Floyd to the January 6 Capitol riot.
The investigation took six months, and involved Times reporters in Asia, in addition to the Visual Investigations team. It discovered that the smuggling appeared to originate with the Winson Group, an oil-trading company based in Singapore but that also operates in Taiwan.
Shortly after being questioned by the newspaper, the Times said, the Winson Group announced that it has changed its name to Zheng Yu Shipping. Also, the spokesman who spoke with the Times is no longer with the company.
The Times report was issued in conjunction with one from the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS), who found that in addition to the oil deliveries to North Korea by a ship called the Diamond 8 that had been flagged by the United Nations in the past, an additional one took place last spring.
The main takeaways from the report include that the sanctions regime against North Korea isn’t being enforced especially strongly, at least when it comes to oil deliveries. Also, that ship, the Diamond 8, appears to still be operational, in Chinese waters. And ownership of such ships is often opaque, combined with laissez faire standards that prevail in the international shipping industry.
The report also found that many associated with the smuggling ring, including Winson Group founder Tony Tung, have ties to the town of Xicen in the southeastern province of Fujian in China. That same region was also the headquarters of the Xiamen Yuanhua smuggling syndicate in the 1990s.
There are numerous sanctions against North Korea, by many countries and international governing bodies. The United States has many trade restrictions in place currently, as illustrated by the State Department here. Last May, the State and Treasury Departments and the U.S. Coast Guard issued a global advisory.
“In order to support international efforts to enforce UN Security Council sanctions on North Korea, the U.S. Department of State’s Rewards for Justice (RFJ) Program offers rewards of up to $5 million for information that leads to the disruption of financial mechanisms of persons engaged in certain activities that support North Korea and its efforts to evade sanctions, including illicit shipping activities, money laundering, cyber-crime, and WMD proliferation,” the advisory said.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.