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Blue House refutes reports of negligence in NK coal import

Cheong Wa Dae on Monday said the government has been looking into North Korean coal being imported since October, refuting reports that the presidential office had sat on the information for four months.

“(Cheong Wa Dae) has been receiving information since immediately after North Korean coal was brought (into South Korea) in October,” Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said.

“Since then, the matter has been under investigation, with the customs office taking the central role. (The investigation) has yet to reach a clear conclusion.” 

A ship is seen docked next to a crane for loading coal at a port in North Korea`s Wonsan, Gangwon Province. Yonhap
A ship is seen docked next to a crane for loading coal at a port in North Korea`s Wonsan, Gangwon Province. Yonhap

It was recently revealed that two cargo vessels brought in over 9,000 metric tons of coal suspected of originating from North Korea into South Korean ports in October.

The vessels -- the Panama-registered Sky Angel and the Sierra Leone-registered Rich Glory -- reportedly brought in the coal marked as products of Russia. Sky Angel has since been re-registered in Vanuatu.

The ships are said to have since made 32 calls at South Korean ports.

Kim added that the relevant authorities have searched the vessels and reviewed related documents, saying that the “expression ‘sitting on’ means nothing was done, but that is not true,” directly refuting a report by conservative daily Chosun Ilbo.

The daily reported Monday that the presidential office did not take any action on the matter for four months despite having been informed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in October.

Citing a Foreign Ministry report submitted to Rep. Choung Byoung-gug of the Bareunmirae Party, the daily claimed that both Cheong Wa Dae and Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha are likely to have been briefed on the issue immediately.

In the report given to Choung, the Foreign Ministry said that “internal reports were made immediately after (the ministry) became aware of related suspicions,” around the time of the two vessels’ arrival in South Korea in October.

The news report went on to claim that the South Korean authorities did not conduct searches or take any other steps until February.

The Foreign Ministry has refuted claims of negligence on the part of the government.

The ministry said that in October, international sanctions requiring governments to hold vessels suspected of violating measures against North Korea were not in place. The ministry added that searches conducted in the past did not reveal items North Korea is banned from importing or exporting by international sanctions.

By Choi He-suk (