U.S. Commits Enforcement Malpractice in Cuba-North Korea Arms Smuggling

Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Yesterday, the U.N. Security Council announced sanctions against the North Korean operator of the Chong Chon Gang vessel, Ocean Maritime Management Company, Ltd., for its illegal weapons smuggling from Cuba.

The fact that the U.N. Security Council allowed the Castro regime to get away unscathed (with a lecture) is definitely concerning -- but it's not surprising, considering China and Russia's presence on the Council.

However, today, the U.S. Department of Treasury went a step further and imposed sanctions on two North Korean entities for their involvement in the Chong Chon Gang incident:

Ocean Maritime Management Company, Ltd., which was also sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council, and Chongchongang Shipping Company, the North Korean owner of the vessel.

How about sanctioning the owners of the Cuban weapons that were being smuggled?

Or how about sanctioning the Cuban port operators (Mariel) who colluded in the shipment?

Or how about sanctioning the Cuban officials that made the deal with the North Korean officials?

What's keeping the U.S. from sanctioning the Cuban entities and officials involved in this illegal smuggling operation?

Is the U.S. concerned that Raul Castro's son-in-law, General Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas, may have been involved?

Is the U.S. concerned about upsetting European companies, which to do business in Cuba must go through the GAESA military conglomerate (run by General Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas)?

How about Cuban Minister of Defense (MINFAR), General Leopoldo Cintas Frias, pictured below with a visiting delegation of senior North Korean military officials shortly before the weapons shipment?

Unfortunately, General Pedro Mendiondo, head of the Cuban Air Force and Air Defense Systems, is no longer an option, as he was mysteriously killed in a car accident (without an entourage) a few weeks after the shipment was intercepted.

The March 2014 report by the U.N. Panel of Experts ("POE Report") is a detailed indictment of Cuba's role in this illegal smuggling operation; its coordination with North Korean officials; and its subsequent attempts to lie and cover it up.

The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, herself stated yesterday:

"This was a cynical, outrageous and illegal attempt by Cuba and North Korea to circumvent United Nations sanctions prohibiting the export of weapons to North Korea... Since the Chong Chon Gang incident, the Committee has undertaken a comprehensive investigation into the violation and uncovered irrefutable facts that clearly prove Cuba and the DPRK’s intentions to violate sanctions by employing highly sophisticated deception and obfuscation techniques, including Cuba’s false claims about the transaction being a routine repair effort when detected by Panamanian and UN authorities."

Let's recall some of the conclusions of the POE Report:

- The Panel concluded in its incident report submitted to the Committee that both the shipment itself and the transaction between Cuba and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea were sanctions violations.

- The Panel found that the hidden cargo amounted to six trailers associated with surface-to-air missile systems and 25 shipping containers loaded with two disassembled MiG-21 aircraft, 15 engines for MiG-21 aircraft, components for surface-to-air missile systems, ammunition and miscellaneous arms-related materiel.This constituted the largest amount of arms and related materiel interdicted to or from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea since the adoption of resolution 1718 (2006).

- No records show the ship stopping at any countries other than Cuba between exiting the Panama Canal on 1 June and its return passage on 11 July.

- On 20 June, the ship docked in the port of Mariel, where it took onboard the arms and related materiel.

- Cuba argued that “maintenance”, as set out in paragraph 8 (c) of resolution 1718, was distinct from “repair”, which Cuba claimed was the basis of its contract with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea... The Panel is unconvinced by Cuba’s rationale to distinguish “maintenance” and “repair.”

- The transportation of undeclared weapons and explosives in this manner posed a significant danger to all persons and facilities in proximity to the ship and should be a cause of concern among shippers, port authorities, the international maritime community and insurers.

- Evidence found on the ship (see annexes XX and XXI) pointed to involvement of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea embassy staff in Cuba. Contact phone numbers and records found in the captain’s notes led the Panel to conclude that embassy officials in Havana were engaged in making arrangements for the shipment of the consignment of arms and related materiel, including the payment methods.

- In its consultations with the Panel, Cuba confirmed the parties involved in the sugar and said that the arms shipment was part of a governmental agreement. It declined, however, to give the Panel copies of these agreements, citing confidentiality clauses in the contracts.

- The incident involving the Chong Chon Gang revealed a comprehensive, planned strategy to conceal the existence and nature of the cargo.

- All identification markings and insignia of the Cuban Revolutionary Air Force had been removed from both MiG-21 aircraft; the Panel observed signs of overspray and scratch marks in places dedicated to original insignia.

- While the age of the items found in the shipment varied greatly, most appeared to have been well maintained. Records accompanying a great deal of the equipment indicated or certified the equipment functioned in accordance with specification or had been calibrated just prior to packing.

- It is the Panel’s view that examining individually the items and their handling suggest that some, if not all, of the consignment was not expected to be returned to Cuba.

- [The Panel] notes that the voyage of another Democratic People’s Republic of Korea-flagged and -owned vessel to Cuba presents a very similar pattern to the recent voyage of the Chong Chon Gang.

- On April 2012, the general cargo vessel O Un Chong Nyon Ho (IMO 8330815) operated by OMM,11 sailed directly from Nampo to Cuba and back without any further calls in the region. After having stopped in Havana and Puerto Padre, the O Un Chong Nyon Ho drifted for several weeks off northern Cuba before returning for three weeks to Havana. Its Automatic Identification System was switched off (in violation of IMO requirements) during these three weeks, however, effectively preventing determination of further ports’ calls,as in the case of the Chong Chon Gang.

So where are the consequences?

Is the U.S. going to allow Cuba to get away with "the largest amount of arms and related materiel interdicted to or from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea since the adoption of resolution 1718 (2006)"?

This is enforcement malpractice (at best).