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North Korean coal, pig iron smuggled into South Korea amid UN sanctions

A total of 35,000 tonnes of North Korean coal and pig iron valued at US$5.8 million illegally entered South Korean ports in 2017 in possible violation of U.N. sanctions, the Associated Press reported Aug. 10, citing preliminary results from an investigation by the Korea Customs Service.

The U.N. Security Council banned coal trading, among other things, with North Korea in a resolution adopted Aug. 5, 2017, as part of sanctions against Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs.

The South Korean customs office, on the heels of a 10-month investigation, is seeking the prosecution of three local companies and its executives for smuggling or falsifying documents to say the North Korean commodities were sourced from Russia.

South Korea's customs service said the contraband was imported in seven separate cases between April and October 2017 to five South Korean ports. Officials from the agency are also looking into whether any of the 14 vessels that transported North Korean coal violated sanctions banning shipments of the commodity, the newswire reported.

Customs officials in the country have also come under fire due to the lengthy investigation period. They have defended themselves, however, by saying the analysis of a huge volume of documents and a request for help from Russia bogged down the investigation.

In January, North Korea allegedly exported coal to South Korea and Japan through shipments to Russia despite the ban. A recent report to the U.N. Security Council found Pyongyang in violation of the sanctions through concealed shipments of coal, oil and military equipment.