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Singaporean man jailed for selling beverages to North Korea

Singaporean man jailed for selling beverages to North Korea

A former channel manager at beverage firm Pokka International, who unlawfully supplied nearly $1.3 million worth of drinks to North Korea, was on Monday December 13 handed a five weeks jail sentence. 

North Korea has been hit with a barrage of sanctions, including from the United Nations, over its nuclear and ballistic missile tests, while Singapore suspended trade ties with the country in 2017.

59-year-old Phua Sze Hee was sentenced after he pleaded guilty to four charges of breaching Regulation of Imports and Exports Regulations, with another 24 charges taken into consideration. 

Between 2017 to 2018, Phua sold beverages including strawberry-flavoured milk and coffee drinks to several Singapore companies, knowing that they would be exported to North Korea for sale there.

While he didn’t earn any commission from the sales, it allowed him to meet his monthly sales targets, court documents said.

It all began in 2014 after a friend introduced Phua to a man identified as Zheng Shi Qiang, also known as Jordan, who was then a director of firms such as Tan Quang Singapore and Baron & Baron.

The case against Zheng, now 50, is pending. Deputy Public Prosecutors V. Jesudevan, Sarah Thaker and Benedict Teong stated in court documents:

“Jordan introduced Phua to one Mr Kim, who was working as an ambassador in the North Korean Embassy in Singapore.

“Jordan would purchase Pokka beverages from Phua, and Phua would, in turn, liaise with Jordan and his staff on these purchases. On occasion, Mr Kim would liaise with Phua for the Pokka beverages sold to Jordan and also raise issue regarding the purchase of Pokka beverages to Phua.”

After Mr Kim died in early 2015, Zheng introduced Phua to another embassy employee, a Mr Mun.

According to court documents, Zheng had told Phua that the two North Koreans were his business partners in the purchase of Pokka beverages.

The DPPs said that Phua also learnt from Zheng that the drinks sold to Tan Quang Singapore and Baron & Baron were meant for export to North Korea. The products would then be sold there.

On or around December 8, 2017, Phua invoiced Tan Quang Singapore for the purchase of 2,520 cartons of Pokka strawberry milk. Phua was aware that the drinks, which had an export value of more than $44,000, would be exported to North Korea.

Separately, he committed similar offences involving Baron & Baron as well as two other firms, A-Linkz Marketing and 123 Duty Free.

At the time of the offences, Tay Kiong Chiak, also known as Ronald, was a director at A-Linkz, while Ryan Wang Jung Chung was a director at 123 Duty Free.

Court documents did not mention if these two men are now facing charges.

In a statement on Monday evening, Pokka said it has not been charged with any offences and is committed to ensuring it complies with all national laws and United Nation sanctions, including ensuring it has no dealings with North Korea.

Pokka said that once it became aware that charges had been brought against Phua, it acted quickly to terminate his employment.

It was also announced that Pokka would immediately suspend business with customers, in and outside Singapore, that are suspected of trading in North Korea”.

There have been several cases in recent years of companies and individuals from Singapore, a key trading hub and financial centre, being prosecuted for supplying banned goods to North Korea. 

Two Singaporean companies were charged earlier this year with exporting whisky, wine, and other drinks to North Korea.

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