Singapore man jailed for selling drinks to North Korea

A Singapore man has been jailed for selling nearly $1 million worth of strawberry milk and coffee to North Korea after the city-state followed other sanctions-busting deals that included shipping wine, whiskey and perfume to Pyongyang.

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

Phua Sze Hee, 59, a former manager at beverage company Pokka International, was sentenced to five weeks in prison on Monday after pleading guilty.

From 2017 to 2018, he sold beverages, including strawberry-flavored milk and coffee beverages, to several companies in Singapore, knowing they would be exported to North Korea for sale.

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He didn’t earn any commission from the sales, but according to court documents, it helped him meet his monthly sales goals.

The court added that a customer introduced Phua in 2014 “to a Mr. Kim who worked as an ambassador at the North Korean embassy in Singapore” and was later introduced to another embassy employee.

Acted against management policy

Pokka said in a statement that Phua was a former employee who acted against management policy.

“Pokka has not been charged with any crime and is committed to ensuring it complies with all national laws and UN sanctions, including ensuring it has no business dealings with North Korea,” the company said in a statement Tuesday.

While the soft drinks were destined for North Korea, leader Kim Jong-Un is known to have a fondness for alcohol, while his father Kim Jong-Il reportedly spent more than $700,000 a year importing Hennessy cognac .

The maximum penalty for exporting goods from Singapore to North Korea is a fine of up to Sg$100,000 ($74,000) or three times the value of the goods exported, up to two years in prison, or both.

In recent years, there have been several cases where companies and individuals from Singapore, a major commercial and financial center, have been prosecuted for supplying prohibited goods to the north.

Two Singaporean companies were charged earlier this year over exporting whiskey, wine and other beverages to North Korea.

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In 2019, a city-state court sentenced the director of a Singapore trading company to nearly three years in prison for shipping $4.4 million worth of luxury goods, including alcohol and perfume, to North Korea.

In 2016, a shipping company in the city was fined for its attempt to smuggle Soviet-era weapons and fighter jets from Cuba to the north.

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