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Sanctions-busting scheme is alleged

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Justice Department has accused a network of North Korean and Chinese citizens of secretly advancing North Korea's nuclear weapons program by channeling at least $2.5 billion in illicit payments through hundreds of front companies.

The indictment, unsealed Thursday in Washington's federal court, is believed to be the largest criminal enforcement action to be brought against North Korea.

The 33 defendants include executives of North Korea's state-owned Foreign Trade Bank, which in 2013 was added to a Treasury Department list of sanctioned institutions for transactions that facilitated the nuclear proliferation network, and cut off from the U.S. financial system.

According to the indictment, the bank officials -- one of whom had served in North Korea's primary intelligence bureau -- set up branches in countries around the world, including Thailand, Russia and Kuwait, and used more than 250 front companies to process U.S. dollar payments to further the country's nuclear proliferation program. They also created new front companies after the government or banks caught onto the association with North Korea, according to the indictment.

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Five of the defendants are Chinese citizens who operated covert branches in either China or Libya. Others who were charged include individuals who served at times as the bank's president or vice president.

None of the defendants are in custody, officials said. The U.S. has frozen and seized about $63 million from the scheme since 2015.

No cars proposed in French Quarter

NEW ORLEANS -- New Orleans officials are studying plans to ban cars in the French Quarter and transform the area into a pedestrian-only zone, the mayor said.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell made the announcement Wednesday during a town hall with The Times Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate. Cantrell, who calls her idea "no cars in the Quarter," said the coronavirus outbreak has allowed officials to rethink ways public spaces can be used to promote social distancing.

Aside from the Quarter, it was not immediately clear in what other areas the task force is looking to ban cars. But in areas where vehicles are banned, restaurants and bars could use empty parking lots and streets to seat customers as their indoor capacity remains limited.

While banning cars in the French Quarter has been discussed for years, a similar proposal made four years ago never materialized.

House probes buy of bad ventilators

WASHINGTON -- House Democrats are calling on the Trump administration to provide records related to the purchase of ventilators from Russia, asserting that the machines were not only unsafe for use but also were made by a subsidiary of a Russian company under U.S. sanctions.

The lawmakers, who lead five House committees and subcommittees, sent the request to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

They are protesting that the U.S. donated hundreds of ventilators to Russia after buying machines from Moscow that were not immediately usable. The same model, Aventa-M, reportedly caused fires in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has confirmed that no Aventa-M ventilators purchased from Russia have been used in the U.S. The lawmakers said the State Department received a final invoice from Russia for $659,283.

The White House referred questions to the State Department, which did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

A Section on 05/29/2020

Print Headline: The nation in brief


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