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China is investigating North Korean bank for nuclear program involvement

China is investigating North Korean bank for nuclear program involvementChina is investigating executives of a North Korean bank believed to finance the illicit procurement of arms and materials related to the isolated country's banned nuclear program, Reuters reported on Monday, citing South Korea's JoongAng Daily.

China and the United States have agreed to step up cooperation in the U.N. Security Council and in law-enforcement channels after North Korea's fifth nuclear test on Sept. 9, the White House said last week.

The Chinese-U.S. cooperation includes targeting the finances of Liaoning Hongxiang Industrial, a Chinese conglomerate headed by a Communist Party cadre, that the Obama administration thinks has had a role in helping North Korea's nuclear program.

The JoongAng Daily said Chinese authorities were investigating a top official of the Kwangson Banking Corporation at its branch in the Chinese border city of Dandong.

The U.S. Treasury designated the bank in 2009 under an order that targets entities supporting North Korea's arms trafficking because of its suspected involvement in procuring "dual-use" technology with both civilian and military application.

"The head of the branch, Ri Il Ho, temporarily returned to North Korea, so the deputy executive is being investigated," a source told the JoongAng Daily.

In March this year, after the latest round of U.N. sanctions, the United Nations extended an asset freeze to all funds held abroad by the bank.

The bank branch in Dandong then moved to an office on the 13th floor of a building also used by Hongxiang and continued to operate, though without a sign outside its office, the JoongAng Daily said.

More than 20 customs and city officials in Dandong are being investigated for granting favors to Ma Xiaohong, Hongxiang's founder and top executive, the JoongAng reported, citing a source "knowledgeable about relations between Beijing and Pyongyang".

Certain assets related to Ma and some of her relatives and associates had been frozen by Chinese authorities in recent weeks, according to government and corporate filings cited by the Wall Street Journal.

Other unidentified "North Korean employees" living in China were also under investigation, the JoongAng said.
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