North Korean company is no stranger to controversy

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 September, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 September, 2005, 12:00am

The white granite front and brass nameplates give no hint of the intrigue that has long swirled around the Zokwang Trading Company in Macau.

Its alleged links to the money laundering allegations out of Washington now engulfing Banco Delta Asia are by no means its first brush with controversy.

Established in 1974, Zokwang Trading Company is the de facto consulate of North Korea in Macau, set in a quiet residential building near the Guia Hill that it has occupied since 1982. So far, the company has remained silent despite public panic in Macau over the future of the bank.

'Numerous people come in and out of that office,' said a security guard at the building. 'That fifth-floor unit is like a government department. People come for things like documents and visas.'

The banking relationship between Zokwang and Banco Delta Asia has always been publicly known. In 1994 the bank found thousands of fake US$100 bills deposited by a North Korean. Five North Koreans - including Pak Ja-byong, then executive director of Zokwang - were questioned. No charges were brought. More counterfeit notes were found five years later.

US investigators reportedly believe Zokwang had also been involved in finding parts for Pyongyang's nuclear programme.

Zokwang is part of the Daesong Trading Corporation, a subsidiary of the Daesong Economic Group, which is controlled by the North Korean government. Some of its more traditional quasi-diplomatic functions are now thought to be carried out by North Korea's Hong Kong consulate.