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US offers US$5 million reward for Singaporean over North Korea oil shipments

WASHINGTON: The Biden administration is offering a reward of up to US$5 million for information about a Singapore-based businessman already accused by the Justice Department of facilitating fuel shipments to North Korea in violation of UN sanctions.

Kwek Kee Seng, who directs a shipping agency and terminal operations company, was charged last year with arranging the deliveries, with prosecutors alleging that he used front companies and false documentation to hide the scheme. Officials say that business helps enable North Korea’s nuclear proliferation programmes.

The US government seized a tanker ship that was used for the fuel deliveries, the 2,734-tonne M/T Courageous, prosecutors have said. One exchange caught on satellite imagery showed the ship transferring more than US$1.5 million worth of oil to a North Korea-flagged ship, the prosecutors said.

Kwek remains at large despite a warrant that has been issued for his arrest. The State Department’s Rewards for Justice programme said his exact location was not known and that he has also been identified as being in North Korea, Cambodia, Taiwan and Thailand as well as Cameroon and the tiny Caribbean nation of Saint Kitts and Nevis.

Kwek, 62, owns the Swanseas Port Services shipping company in Singapore, a close US ally.

The State Department on Thursday said it was offering up to US$5 million through its Rewards for Justice programme. Kwek was also among a group of people and firms sanctioned last month by the Treasury Department.

The announcement of a reward came amid heightened tensions with North Korea, which on Thursday fired at least six missiles into the sea, including an intercontinental ballistic missile that triggered evacuation warnings and halted trains in northern Japan.

The Biden administration said in response to the launches that it is willing to take “all necessary measures” to ensure the safety of the American homeland as well as South Korea and Japan, and warned of unspecified “additional costs and consequences” if North Korea detonates a nuclear test device for the first time since September 2017.

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