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UN: Cuba refused to ID those involved in North Korea arms shipment

MIAMI — Cuba’s government refused to identify the people or entities involved in a weapons shipment to North Korea last year that violated a U.N. arms embargo and might have violated the embargo twice more in 2012, according to a U.N. report made public Tuesday.

Some of the weapons and equipment that Cuba described as “obsolete” had been calibrated just before they were put aboard the freighter Chong Chon Gang, the document added, and Cuban insignias on two MiG21 warplanes were painted over.

The report also declared that the shipment intercepted in Panama violated the U.N. embargo on the Asian nation, and that despite Havana’s denials there were indications Cuba intended to turn over the weapons to the Pyongyang government.

Cuba’s 240-ton shipment was “the largest amount of arms and related materiel” interdicted going to or from North Korea since the Asian nation was hit with an arms embargo in 2006 because of its nuclear weapons program, the document added.

The public part of the 127-page report makes no recommendations on sanctions for Cuban or North Korean entities involved in the violations. But it mentions a secret annex submitted to the U.N. Security Council, or UNSC, committee in charge of banking and travel sanctions on violators.

Anti-Castro activist Mauricio Claver Carone urged the Obama administration to adopt “tangible repercussions that would make it unequivocally clear to the Castro regime that such behavior isn’t inconsequential. Otherwise, it will continue to feel emboldened.”

Cuba declared in July that it sent the weapons to North Korea to be repaired and returned. It later argued to U.N. investigators who visited Havana that they did not violate the U.N. ban on the “supply, sale or transfer” of weapons to Pyongyang because Cuba retained ownership and the embargo covers “maintenance” but not “repairs.”

Those arguments were rejected in the document Tuesday, the annual report by the panel of U.N. experts that investigates all violations of the North Korea sanctions. It was submitted last month to the UNSC committee that enforces the embargo, and parts of it had leaked to the news media.

“The Panel is unconvinced by Cuba’s rationale to distinguish ‘maintenance’ and ‘repair,’” the report said, adding flatly that the shipment “violated the sanctions.”

Although Cuba told the U.N. investigators that the state-run Cubazucar had shipped the 200,018 sacks of sugar that covered and hid the weapons on the Chong Chon Gang, it refused to identify the Cubans involved in the weapons shipment and contract with Pyongyang.

“It declined … to give the panel copies of these agreements, citing confidentiality clauses in the contracts,” the report said. “The Panel is not, therefore, able to identify the entities or individuals involved in these agreements.”

The report said the weapons were loaded aboard the freighter at the port of Mariel west of Havana that’s being expanded by a consortium of Almacenes Universal S.A., run by the Cuban military and Brazilian enterprises.

Packed in 25 metal shipping containers and six trailers were two anti-aircraft missile systems, two MiG-21UM jet trainers, 15 engines and afterburners for the MiG21s, artillery shells and other munitions and materiel — most of it from the Soviet era.

While Cuba claims the weaponry was to be returned to the island, the report said it was the “panel’s view that examining individually the items and their (packaging) … suggest that some, if not all, of the consignment was not expected to be returned to Cuba.”

And although Cuba claims the weapons were “obsolete,” the report added, “records accompanying a great deal of the equipment indicated or certified the equipment functioned in accordance with specification or had been calibrated just before packing. Further, some of the equipment was unused or still in its original packaging.”

What’s more, the report said, Cuba had confirmed that North Korean military officers visited the island in 2012 to assess the weapons that were shipped in 2013. If the visit was “to provide services or assistance … they would also have been a violation.”

The report added that another North Korean freighter docked in April 2012 at some of the same Cuban ports as the Chong Chon Gang. Havana claimed it made only one weapons shipment last summer, but the experts could not confirm that claim.

The report also detailed the efforts to hide the Cuban weapons under the sugar and the freighter’s failure to report its true cargo as it prepared to cross the Panama Canal westbound to North Korea. Panama intercepted the ship on a tip it was carrying drugs.

Cuba argued that it was not responsible for hiding the weapons under the sugar, according to the U.N. experts’ report.

The document included the text of a message, marked “secret,” notifying the captain of the freighter that he would be taking on some unscheduled cargo in Cuba and telling him to inform only his deputy captain and the political and security commissars aboard.

“After unloading in Havana … load the containers first and load the 10,000 tons of sugar (at the next Port) over them so that the containers cannot be seen,” added the message, found aboard the ship.

“The extraordinary and extensive efforts to conceal the cargo of arms” and the freighter’s failure to include the weapons in its cargo manifest “point to a clear and conscious intention to circumvent” the arms embargo, the report said.

Before taking on the weapons, the freighter had delivered steel plates and railroad parts to Havana valued at roughly the same $3 million value of the sugar it took on in the northeastern port of Puerto Padre, the report said. It put no value on the weapons.

The freighter and its 32-man crew were detained in Panama for several months but were released earlier this year. The weapons and sugar remain in the Central American nation.

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