US slaps new sanctions on North Korea

The US government has slapped new sanctions on North Korea, targeting illegal trade in arms, drugs and luxury goods, as it steps up the pressure over the sinking of a South Korean warship.

The Treasury Department announced on Monday it was imposing sanctions on four people and eight organizations accused of aiding the secretive communist government through illicit trade.

President Barack Obama issued an order freezing assets and imposing travel bans, in the latest action over the sinking of the South Korean navy ship in March which Washington and Seoul have blamed on North Korea.

Obama also expanded the scope of US sanctions to cover those involved in the trade in arms, drugs and luxury goods to and from the dirt-poor nation.

Among those targeted was a secretive branch of the Korean Workers’ Party, known as Office 39, which is suspected of selling methamphetamine in China and South Korea and acquiring luxury items for North Korea’s leaders.

The group is thought to be involved in a failed attempt to buy two Italian-made luxury yachts worth more than 15 million dollars for North Korea’s reclusive leader, Kim Jong-Il.

“North Korea’s government helps maintain its authority by placating privileged elites with money and perks such as luxury goods like jewelry, luxury cars and yachts,” said the Treasury Department’s sanctions chief Stuart Levey.

Among those also targeted were the head of North Korea’s intelligence agency Kim Yong-Chol, who has been linked to the March torpedo attack that killed 46 people on the South Korean corvette. Pyongyang denies any role in the attack.

Green Pine Associated Corporation, a group said to be controlled by Kim Yong-Chol’s intelligence agency, was also sanctioned.

The organization was accused of “exporting arms or related materiel from North Korea,” and is said to specialize in the production of maritime military craft and armaments.

“(Green Pine) has exported torpedoes and technical assistance to Iranian defense firms” the Treasury department said.

Other individuals, including two members of the North Korea’s General Bureau of Atomic Energy were also sanctioned.

Others targeted included the head of North Korea’s atomic energy bureau Ri Je-son and Ri Hong-Sop, who according to the United Nations, once ran the controversial Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center.

The center is suspected of producing fissile materiel used in nuclear weapons testing.