UNITED NATIONS (AP) — North Korea has modernized its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles by flaunting United Nations sanctions, using cyberattacks to help finance its programs and continuing to seek material and technology overseas for its arsenal, U.N. experts said.
The panel of experts monitoring sanctions on the Northeast Asian nation said in a report sent to Security Council members Monday that North Korea’s “total theft of virtual assets from 2019 to November 2020 is valued at approximately $316.4 million,” according to one unidentified country.
The panel said its investigations found that North Korean-linked cyber actors continued to conduct operations in 2020 against financial institutions and virtual currency exchange houses to generate money to support its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs.
In its weapons development, the experts said, Kim Jong Un’s government has also produced fissile material — an essential ingredient for producing nuclear weapons — and maintained its nuclear facilities.
“It displayed new short-range, medium-range, submarine-launched and intercontinental ballistic missile systems at military parades,“ they said. “It announced preparation for testing and production of new ballistic missile warheads and, development of tactical nuclear weapons … and upgraded its ballistic missile infrastructure.“
The panel recommended that the Security Council impose sanctions on four North Korean men: Choe Song Chol, Im Song Sun, Pak Hwa Song, and Hwang Kil Su.
The Security Council has imposed increasingly tough sanctions on North Korea since its first test explosion of a nuclear device in 2006. It has banned most of the country’s exports and severely limited its imports, trying to pressure Pyongyang into abandoning its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
But the report’s summary and some key findings and recommendations, obtained by The Associated Press, make clear that North Korea remains able to evade sanctions and develop its weapons and to illicitly import refined petroleum, access international banking channels and carry out “malicious cyber activities.”
North Korea’s arsenal escalated to a major threat to the United States following tests in 2017 that included a detonation of a purported thermonuclear warhead and flight tests demonstrating its ICBMs could reach deep in the American mainland.
A year later, Kim initiated diplomacy with South Korea and then-U.S. President Donald Trump that derailed in 2019 when the Americans rejected North Korea’s demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for a piecemeal deal partially surrendering its nuclear weapons capabilities.
Last year, North Korea’s already battered economy decayed further amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which led Kim to close the country’s borders. That severely limited the legal and illegal transfer of goods and movement of people, according to the experts.
At a North Korean political conference, Kim…