12 Year Sentence for North Korea Arms Smugglers

Barbed Wire Fence

By Kathryn Stone 2015-06-15 14:01:21

The captain and first mate of a North Korean cargo vessel caught smuggling weapons through the Panama Canal have been sentenced to 12 years in prison.

The recent decision overturns a previous lower court ruling, which claimed the charges against the men where outside of Panama’s jurisdiction.

Captain Ri Yong Il and fist mate Hong Yong Hyon were convicted in connection with a July 2013 attempt to smuggle over 240 tons of weapons from Cuba to North Korea. Another officer, Kim Yong Goal, was acquitted of any wrong-doing.

The illicit weapons, including two MiG-21 jet fighters were found hidden among a 200,000-bag shipment of brown sugar. Following a standoff with authorities, Captain Yong Il attempted to commit suicide by cutting his own throat.

There were 35 mariners aboard the 13,990 dwt cargo ship Chong Chon Gang at the time of its initial detention. However, only the captain and two senior officers faced criminal charges. The original 2014 ruling, acquitted all three men on charges of endangering public safety. However, an appeal was introduced to Panama’s Second Circuit Court shortly after the initial ruling.

Julio Berrios, the lawyer for the three men has said that the original case and subsequent appeal are largely motivated by pressure from the international community since the shipment of undocumented weapons violates U.N. sanctions against the Asian country. 

Last July, the U.N. Security Council blacklisted Ocean Maritime for arranging the illegal shipment on the Chong Chon Gang.

Both Yong Il and Yong Hyon returned to North Korea last year after the original ruling. It is not known if the North Koreans will comply with the Circuit Court’s judgement, but local news sources claim that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is aware of the court’s most recent ruling.  

Berrios has added that the defendants most likely will not appeal the judgement.