U.S. imposes sanctions on people, firms it says helped North Korea evade sanctions

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States has imposed sanctions on two people and three firms and has identified a blocked ship that it says helped North Korea evade sanctions, the Treasury Department said on Friday.

The sanctions target a shipping network that the Treasury Department says engaged in ship-to-ship oil transfers with North Korea to help Pyongyang circumvent sanctions imposed by the United Nations.

The Treasury Department says two Taiwan-based individuals used the ship, which had previously conducted at least two ship-to-ship transfers with North Korea-flagged vessels, to transport 1.7 million liters of petroleum products to a North Korean-flagged ship.

The two people have interests in the three companies targeted by the sanctions, according to the Treasury Department. Two of the companies are Taiwan-based while a third was located in Hong Kong.

Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Saturday that the case was under investigation. In a statement, it urged its citizens and companies not to engage in commercial activities that violate U.N. Security Council resolutions.

North Korea is under United Nations sanctions meant to halt Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Although U.S. President Donald Trump has publicly stated he has a good relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the United States seized a North Korean ship earlier this year that Washington said was involved in illegal coal shipments in violation of U.N. sanctions.

Reporting by Lisa Lambert and Makini Brice with additional reporting by Dominique Patton; Editing by Steve Orlofsky/Mark Heinrich