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North Korea is likely buying diesel from Russian oil companies via trading companies in Singapore, and should the U.S. cut off all oil flows to Pyongyang, it would sever the regime’s lifeline, senior-level North Korean defector Ri Jong Ho told Voice of America Korean Service in his first interview since he defected in October 2014.
For 30 years, Ri had supervised North Korea’s production and trade, and his last role was head of Korea Daesong General Trading Corporation, managed by Office 39. This Office 39 is a secretive branch of the government of North Korea that “provides critical support to North Korean leadership in part through engaging in illicit economic activities and managing slush funds and generating revenues for the leadership,” the U.S. Department of Treasury has said.
According to Ri, every year North Korea imports up to 200,000 to 300,000 tons of diesel from Russia via firms in Singapore.
“We first strike a deal with Singaporean firms, which then enter into another contract with Russian oil companies,” Ri told Voice of America, adding that he was involved in transporting the Russian oil to North Korea between 1997 and 2005.
Since there is continued movement of North Korea’s oil tankers, it is likely that those deals are still taking place today, according to Ri.
North Korea is also importing 50,000-100,000 tons of gasoline by tankers from China. In addition, China supplies North Korea with around 500,000 tons of crude oil by pipeline, all toward the military, and all free of charge, according to Ri’s words to Voice of America.
“If the U.S. government begins to crack down on Pyongyang’s imports of oil, the North Korean regime will inevitably suffer heavy damage,” Ri said, noting that “If the operations of the North Korea-bound tankers carrying oil from Russia and China come to a full stop, the regime’s lifeline will be severed.”
Earlier this month, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the U.S. would focus its efforts on shutting off North Korea’s access to crude oil. In this, Washington will seek the assistance of other countries, Tillerson said.
Three senior administration officials told Reuters on Tuesday that U.S. President Donald Trump was considering potential trade actions against China over its inaction over North Korea and over bilateral U.S-China trade issues.
By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com
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Tsvetana is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing for news outlets such as iNVEZZ and SeeNews.