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US Puts $5M Bounty on Singaporean Accused of Facilitating North Korea's Weapons Proliferation

People watch a TV broadcasting a news report on North Korea firing three ballistic missiles into the sea, in Seoul, South Korea, Nov. 2, 2022. (Yonhap via Reuters)

The United States announced on Thursday up to $5 million in rewards, seeking information on a Singaporean national whom officials say provided sanctioned services to North Korea to enable Pyongyang's nuclear programs.

Kwek Kee Seng is accused of engaging in an extensive scheme to evade U.S. and United Nations sanctions by covertly transporting fuel to North Korea through a Singapore-based shipping agency, Swanseas Port Services (S) Pte Ltd.

In violation of U.S. law, Kwek Kee Seng "has organized the delivery of petroleum products directly to the DPRK as well as ship-to-ship transfers of fuel destined for the DPRK using one of his oil tankers," said Paul Houston, a deputy assistant secretary of state for the Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service.

This image released by the FBI shows the wanted poster for Kwek Kee Seng.
This image released by the FBI shows the wanted poster for Kwek Kee Seng.

Thursday's Rewards for Justice announcement is part of Washington's ongoing efforts to disrupt financial tools of persons engaged in illegal activities that support North Korea's weapons proliferation programs, money laundering, and specific cyber operations.

The U.S. efforts to curb North Korea's illicit activities come amid Pyongyang's unprecedented missile firings and escalating nuclear threats.

"The Democratic People's Republic of Korea is a country of major concern when it comes to proliferation," said Gonzalo Suarez, a deputy assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation.

"As of this morning, it has launched over 50 ballistic missiles, including six intercontinental ballistic missiles, and we assess it is prepared to also conduct a nuclear test," Suarez added.

North Korea on Thursday continued its unprecedented pace of launches, sending six more missiles into the sea, as it continued to lash out at the United States and South Korea for conducting joint military exercises.

U.S. officials also voiced concerns about North Korea's weapon proliferation. White House National Security spokesperson John Kirby said Wednesday the U.S. has information that indicates North Korea is covertly supplying Russia with a "significant" number of artillery shells for its war in Ukraine.

In Pyongyang, North Korea's foreign ministry this week demanded that the U.S. and South Korea stop large-scale military exercises, calling them a provocation that may draw "more powerful follow-up measures."

"The DPRK knows full well that the military exercises that we conduct are purely, purely defensive in nature," State Department spokesperson Ned Price said during a briefing Tuesday.

The spokesperson warned of "profound costs and profound consequences" if North Korea went ahead with its seventh nuclear test.

A diplomatic source who asked not to be named told VOA that South Korea, together with the U.S., have "full capability" to "wipe out" North Korea should Pyongyang launch an attack against Seoul. He said South Korea currently has no plan to request that the United States redeploy the tactical nuclear weapons that Washington withdrew from Seoul in the early 1990s.

The Rewards for Justice Program is administered by the State Department's diplomatic security service. The program has paid more than $250 million to more than 125 people who provided information that have helped resolve threats to U.S. national security since 1984.