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US fingers Swiss firm for North Korean ties

North Korea's military might would be further boosted by nuclear weapons Keystone

The United States has blacklisted a Swiss company and its president for allegedly helping North Korea obtain weapons of mass destruction.

This content was published on March 31, 2006 - 09:46

The Treasury Department designated Kohas AG, an import-export firm based in Fribourg, as a supporter of weapons proliferation and ordered the freezing of any assets it may hold in the US.

The department alleged that Kohas has financial ties to a North Korean company, Korea Ryonbong General Corporation. The US government froze the Korean firm's assets last year, believing it to have engaged in transactions to spread weapons of mass destruction.

Nearly half of Kohas's shares are owned by a subsidiary of Korea Ryonbong, while the rest are in the hands of its president, Swiss national Jakob Steiger.

Othmar Wyss of the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) said the Swiss authorities had been informed of the US decision but added that Kohas was not about to be investigated.

"We have no indication that Swiss export legislation was broken by Kohas," he said, adding that close tabs have been kept on the company over the past decade.

Accusations

For his part, Steiger told swissinfo that the US accusations were groundless, and that his firm did no business in the US and had no assets there.

He said Kohas specialised in producing consoles for electronic equipment, and had been importing products from North Korea since 1987.

Steiger added that his firm exported nothing to North Korea, and that its books were audited by an external firm and were open to public scrutiny.

Forbidden

The freezing of the Swiss company's assets is the latest effort by the US government to intensify pressure on North Korea. Americans are forbidden from doing business with Kohas.

"North Korea's efforts to build and sell weapons of mass destruction depend on a vast network, the reach of which extends beyond Asia," said Stuart Levey, the treasury's under-secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

"The Treasury will continue to track and combat this network aggressively to exclude North Korea's illicit activity from the financial system."

According to a treasury statement, Kohas acts as a technology broker in Europe for the North Korean military and has procured goods with weapons-related applications.

"Kohas AG and Jakob Steiger have been involved in activities of proliferation concern on behalf of North Korea since the company's founding in the late 1980s," it added.

The treasury's designation of the Swiss company and its president comes amid rising tensions over the communist state's nuclear capabilities.

Nuclear weapons

North Korea declared last year that it has nuclear weapons, although the claims could not be confirmed independently.

Discussions among six nations – the United States, North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia – over North Korea's nuclear ambitions have stalled since November.

Talks have been hampered by a dispute involving financial restrictions imposed by the US on North Korea for its alleged counterfeiting and money laundering.

North Korea has said it will not return to the negotiating table unless the restrictions are lifted.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Switzerland has no diplomatic representation in North Korea.

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), a unit of the foreign ministry, does however have an office in Pyongyang, where it coordinates Swiss cooperation activities in North Korea.

The SDC is the sole bilateral donor working towards development cooperation in the communist state.

The agency works closely with other donors, more specifically in agriculture.

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