Banker sees no end to saga of Macau millions

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 April, 2007, 12:00am

The biggest holder of frozen North Korean-linked funds in Banco Delta Asia will soon head to Macau to claim his money - but still fears no other bank will touch it.

Colin McAskill, representative of Hong Kong-owned North Korean bank Daedong Credit, said he doubted that the saga could end soon, despite this week's announcements in Washington and Macau that the freeze was over.

Banks across the region remained nervous of touching Banco Delta funds after a US Treasury Department crackdown, he said.

The department's possible blacklisting next week of the private family-owned bank further complicated the scenario. The move would formalise an announcement made last month under the US Patriot Act to bar Banco Delta from accessing the US financial system.

Speaking in London, Mr McAskill said he had been formally notified from the bank's receivers that the 'problems had been solved' and they were prepared to liaise about freeing the money.

'With the notification coming so late in the day, I'm concerned we may not be able to make it in time because of the reluctance of any bank to receive any funds caught up in the controversy,' said Mr McAskill. He is aiming to visit Macau on Monday.

Daedong Credit holds US$7 million of the US$25 million frozen when Treasury Department officials claimed in September 2005 that the bank was a 'willing pawn' in North Korean criminality.

The Daedong account includes US$2.6 million belonging to tobacco giant British American Tobacco.

Mr McAskill's comments came as China also suggested the unblocking of the funds was still not quite over, Reuters reported.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said it hoped the issue could soon be resolved.

'The legitimate and reasonable concerns, and interests of all parties should be addressed so we can find a way to properly resolve the issue as soon as possible,' Mr Qin said.

The US Treasury Department and the Macau Monetary Authority announced on Tuesday that the funds could be freed - despite the Treasury Department still claiming that some US$13 million in 17 accounts was linked to illicit activity.

North Korea has yet to comment on the announcement or moved to reclaim money held by state-owned banks and other Macau-based companies. Pyongyang has said repeatedly it would only shut down its nuclear reactor once it receives the funds.

At least 10 accounts are facing identity and authentication problems, with one account holder having died and others having fled the city.