How front companies in UK facilitate North Korea’s nuclear proliferation

Hinkley Point C nuclear power station site is seen near Bridgwater in Britain, September 14, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Report points out many North Korean entities have set up corporate presence in UK for proliferation purposes


United Kingdom’s links with North Korea through front companies in the UK by associates of DPRK have been unearthed by a recent report published by reputed Project Alpha, a think tank based in Centre for Science and Security Studies, King’s College London that specialises in implementation of non-proliferation controls.

A similar account exposing India, North Korea vicious nexus related to exchange of students, nuclear and missile technology was published in Pakistan Today on September 23, 2016. The story shed light on the extent of assistance that India was providing to North Korea and exposed Indian secret training to North Korean scientists for development of ballistic missiles at a Research centre in the Himalayan foothills.

In order to continue with its nuclear and missile program, North Korea has laid down a complex network of procurement agents and facilitators based outside of the country, mostly in Southeast and East Asia. This practice is employed in attempts to hide North Korea’s involvement is the use of foreign registered companies.

At least three cases have identified by Project Alpha where entities with links to North Korea, have set up corporate presences in the United Kingdom. These cases include a UK registered company by the name of Carbuncle Business Company Ltd, three UK companies possible facilitating North Korean trade in zinc and coal that are restricted by UN Security Council sanctions and another company registered in UK that remained active for only one year.

It is a clear cut possibility that many of the registered companies based in Hong Kong may have established links with the United Kingdom, and the companies of concern are a relatively small number in comparison to the volume of similar registered companies. Registering a private limited company in the United Kingdom currently costs £15 and can be carried out online. The directors do not need to be in the UK, but it requires a UK address, of which there are plenty of companies offering such a service.

Many firms of Hong Kong are offering company registration services, some of which appear to have been utilised by DPRK-associated entities. The report says that these are often ‘brass plate’ companies, having no real local presence in the place of registration, but allowing the DPRK to take advantage of all the benefits offered by those jurisdictions.

It is pertinent to mention here that despite resolutions of European Union and the United Nations Security Council pertaining to the associated and unilateral sanctions on North Korea, the country appears to continue its development of nuclear and ballistic missile technology. Furthermore, the Pyongyang keeps on selling military-related equipment to those who are willing to pay. North Korea, in order to support its nuclear programmes needs to procure materials, components and equipment which require funds.

The report questions why UK, a country that has never been seen as a permissive jurisdiction became so amiable to associates of North Korea. Hong Kong had and still has a reputation in this regard. The report calls it an attempt to mask North Korean involvement in business activities by pretending to have a British presence.

The report says that the purpose of using UK registered companies makes it much easier to conduct business and other transactions with suppliers and banks who would probably be highly reluctant to deal with an entity registered in North Korea. The report also said that UK registered companies are most probably used to open bank accounts overseas, like Hong Kong

Project Alpha’s report raises questions about the scrutiny pertaining to company registration in UK, lack of due diligence on UK’s part and the decision about forwarding these cases to the United Nations Korea Panel of Experts for further investigation.

In another related development next month, Japan, only country to suffer a nuclear attack in history and India, a country reputed to have a shaky record of nuclear proliferation and safety of its nuclear sites are going to sign a civil nuclear cooperation pact that will directly benefit GE-Hitachi, an alliance of US and Japanese firms. The signing of pact by Japan who witnessed the horror of atomic bombs first-hand the horror during WW-II with India indicates of a change of course for a docile Far Asian nation.

All these developments occur at a time when USA is worried by the growing influence of China in the region. Now America is paving way for a new regional alliance comprising of Japan, Vietnam and India to box in the might of China.