Panama jails 2 North Korean seamen 12 years for arms smuggling

The North Korean captain and the first officer of the freighter, which was caught trying to smuggle weapons to Cuba via the Panama Canal in 2013, have been sentenced to 12 years in prison by Panama’s Second Circuit Court.

The Second Circuit Court overturned the previous ruling by a lower court that acquitted the two men and another crewmember of the North Korea-flagged freighter Chong Chon Gang.

That ruling was appealed by the prosecution and now the Second Court sentenced the captain of the freighter, Ri Yong Il, and the first officer, Hong Yong Hyon, for international arms trafficking, and affirmed the acquittal of North Korea’s political commissar Kim Yong Gol.

“This decision does not withstand legal analysis and violates not only domestic law but international law,” said Julio Berrios, the lawyer representing the defendants.

The seized ship, Chong Chon Gang, was caught carrying arms, missiles, as well as two MiG-21 jet fighters, hidden under thousands of tonnes of sugar. The ship was stopped under suspicion that it was smuggling drugs, however, the subsequent search revealed the hidden weaponry.

Once discovered, Cuba said it was sending “obsolete” Soviet-era weapons to be repaired in North Korea.

The incident led to the UN Security Council committee imposing sanctions on Ocean Maritime Management, the operator of the vessel.

Ocean Maritime Management tried to dodge the sanctions by renaming its vessels. According to the UN report OMM renamed 13 of its 14 ships and transferred their ownership and management to other single ship owner companies.



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