Taiwanese man bailed over oil transfer to North Korean ship
Man suspected by Taiwanese authorities of arranging the transfer of fuel from the tanker to a North Korean ship, breaking UN embargoes. He denies any wrongdoing
A man from Taiwan has been released on bail as part of the wider investigation into the Hong Kong-registered tanker accused of breaking UN sanctions by transferring oil to a North Korean ship.
Prosecutors in Taiwan suspect that Chen Shih-hsien was the oil dealer behind the transfer of the fuel.
Chen was released on NT$1.5 million (US$50,000) bail and will face further questioning, according to a statement released on Thursday by the prosecutors office in the southern Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung. Chen denies any wrongdoing.
The tanker, the Lighthouse Winmore, was seized by South Korean officials after it allegedly transferred about 600 tonnes of oil to a North Korean vessel in October.
Chen was summoned for questioning by the Kaohsiung District Prosecutors Office late on Tuesday, prosecutors said.
The statement alleged that Chen, who owns two fishing companies in Kaohsiung, was aware the tanker would transfer oil in international waters and he provided inaccurate information in an export declaration that said the vessel’s destination was Hong Kong.
Chen was quoted by the several news media outlets in Taiwan as saying that he told investigators he had helped a Chinese citizen transfer the oil to another ship, but was unaware its destination was North Korea.
The Liberty Times quoted an unnamed prosecutors office source as saying Chen told investigators he sold oil products through a “Chinese middleman” and that as a general practice, the middleman would not tell the supplier who was the actual buyer and where the transaction would take place.
Calls to Chen’s Kao Yang Fishery and Ying Jen Fishery companies went unanswered.
The Kaohsiung prosecutors office launched its investigation after South Korea’s foreign ministry said the tanker was inspected and seized by South Korean customs officials in November.
The tanker allegedly transferred the oil to a North Korean vessel in international waters in the Yellow Sea on October 19. The transfer would be in violation of United Nations Security Council sanctions imposed on North Korea in September.
The South Korean authorities say the Lighthouse Winmore was chartered by the Taiwanese company Billions Bunker Group. Taiwan’s Maritime and Port Bureau has confirmed the company was incorporated in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific.
Taiwanese media have also reported that the company shares the same address in Kaohsiung with Chen’s companies.
The Lighthouse Winmore is owned by Win More Shipping and managed by Lighthouse Shipping Development, which have registered addresses in Guangzhou in southern China, according to the Hong Kong Companies Registry.
Zeng Haibo, a deputy general manager at Lighthouse Shipping, told the South China Morning Post the vessel had been chartered, but denied any knowledge of its use to trade with North Korea.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry declined to comment on Chen’s case because it was still under investigation but said the island would stand by the UN Security Council’s resolution.
“As a responsible member of international society, we have always cooperated with international sanctions against North Korea, and relevant government departments and agencies are launching investigations against any possible deals by either our vessels or individuals in aiding North Korea,” the foreign ministry said.