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Korean Company Facing Sanctions for Illegally Exporting Strategic Materials

Korean Company Facing Sanctions for Illegally Exporting Strategic Materials

Posted September. 12, 2005 07:02,   


There is the increasing possibility that a Korean company will be put under sanctions by the international community, including the U.S., because some of the allegations that it illegally exported strategic materials have been confirmed.

The Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Energy announced on September 11 that an investigation found some of the allegations surrounding company K, a radioactive materials company, were true. The company had been suspected of having sold tritium, nickel 63 and iridium, which can be used to manufacture nuclear weapons, to Iran at the end of last year.

Sim Sung-geun, the manager of the ministry’s strategic material system team, explained, “The company was found not to have exported tritium, a category 1 strategic material, which requires the government’s approval to be exported. But it was confirmed that the company imported iridium and nickel 63 from Russia at the end of last year and exported them to Iran.”

Strategic materials refer to materials or technology that can be used for developing weapons of mass destruction (WMD), such as nuclear weapons and biochemical weapons. They are classified into category 1 and category 2 strategic materials.

Iridium and nickel 63, which the company exported to Iran, don’t fall into category 1, but they can still be used for manufacturing WMD. That’s why the international community designated them as materials to be monitored.

But the Korean government’s position is that it can’t punish the company because there are no domestic legal grounds to do so.

External trade law stipulates that a company which exports strategic materials without their government’s permission will be subject to punishment. But there is no regulation governing barter trade in this regard, so there are no legal grounds to punish the company.

Furthermore, the government has made it mandatory to get government permission beginning in July this year when a company wants to export the category 2 materials to countries which are suspected of manufacturing WMD. But the company exported them at the end of last year.

But we can’t rule out the possibility that the international community will impose sanctions on the company. Signatories to the strategic material export control treaty, including the U.S., have legislated domestic laws to ban illegal strategic material exports for up to 20 years.

Sim said, “The international community is closely following the Korean companies’ exports of strategic materials, because they understand that Korea has low awareness on this issue,” adding, “So we can’t rule out the possibility that the international community will punish the company as an example.”

Chang-Won Kim changkim@donga.com