North Korean Vessel Wise Honest Forfeited to U.S. Government

An undated image provided in a U.S. Department of Justice complaint for forfeiture released May 9, 2019 shows the North Korean vessel Wise Honest.
An undated image provided in a U.S. Department of Justice complaint for forfeiture shows the North Korean vessel Wise Honest. Department of Justice/Handout via REUTERS.

A federal judge in Southern District of New York has issued a judgement for the forfeiture of a North Korean cargo vessel held by the U.S. since May over illicit shipments in violation of U.S. and United Nations sanctions against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the U.S. Department of Justice has announced.

The vessel at the center of the case is the M/V Wise Honest, a 17,061-ton bulk registered in North Korea.

According to the Justice Department, the vessel was one of North Korea’s most-active and largest bulk carriers used to illicitly ship coal from North Korea. Payments for maintenance, equipment and improvements of the vessel were made in U.S. dollars through unwitting U.S. banks, the Department said.

The judgement confirms the U.S. Government’s ownership of the vessel.

“This order of forfeiture sinks the Wise Honest’s career as one of North Korea’s largest sanctions-busting vessels,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers. “The Department of Justice will continue to pursue other property used to violate U.S. and international sanctions, around the globe, with the cooperation of our international partners.”?

The Wise Honest was initially seized by Indonesia in April 2018, but was handed over the United States the following month after the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York filed a civil forfeiture complaint against the vessel.

The Justice Department says Wise Honest was used by Korea Songi Shipping Company, an affiliate of Korea Songi General Trading Corporation, to export coal from North Korea, as well as import machinery to North Korea, from at least November 2016 through April 2018.

In one instance, in March 2018, the vessel was loaded with coal in Nampo, North Korea. In connection with the voyage, payments totaling more than $750,000 were transmitted through accounts at a U.S. financial institution, a violation of U.S. law prohibiting banks from working with North Korean parties.

“Participants in the Korea Songi Scheme attempted to conceal the Wise Honest’s DPRK affiliation by falsely listing different countries for the Wise Honest’s nationality and the origin of the illicit coal in shipping documentation,” the Justice Department said in a statement.

Additional efforts were also made to conceal the vessel’s activity, including not broadcasting an AIS signal since August 4, 2017, according to the Department.

?“Today’s judgment of forfeiture finalizes the U.S. government’s seizure of the Wise Honest and officially takes this North Korean vessel out of commission,” said U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman for the Southern District of New York. “It will no longer be used to further a criminal scheme. Using the full set of tools at our disposal, we will continue to investigate and prosecute attempts to evade U.S. sanctions, including by the North Korean regime.”

The judgement of forfeiture was ordered by the Honorable P. Kevin Castel of the Southern District of New York.