32 of 35 North Korean crew detained after their ship Chong Chon Gang was smuggling undeclared weapons are not released. This unexpected turn of events comes after a Panamanian prosecutor who first informed that the people will be released, changed his explanation of the events and apparently all 35 people are being still held.
The prosecutor informed at first that only 3 people are still detained - the captain, first mate and a Korean official. But now all people will face charges of weapons smuggling. He changed his version, explaining that officially only the vessel is free to go. But there is one condition the ship can go - North Korea must pay $1million fine due to violating the canal’s security while entering with undeclared weapons on board. The vessel was violating also one more serious rule - the sanction of UN that has imposed ban over weapons trading with North Korea.
The fine is not paid and the Panama authorities are considering the selling of the cargo, 10,000 tons of sugar with estimated price of $3million. North Korea in other hand wants the 10,000 tons of sugar back.
Chong Chon Gang was sailing from to Cuba to North Korea when was stopped for inspection. Inspectors were suspicious of drugs smuggling. The investigation conducted by the Panama authorities lead to discovering 2 MiG-21 aircraft, missiles and munitions dating from the Soviet-era.
Cuba announced that the military equipment was owned by the Caribbean nation but had to be repaired before returning back. The country also claimed that a legitimate contract was signed for the arms and wants old weapons to be delivered back to Cuba.
Inspectors proved that the 2 fighter jets were used recently and are still operational.
UN inspectors also participated in the investigation of this case because of the sanctions against North Korea. A preliminary report shows that the Cuban weapons definitely violated the UN ban of trading with arms with North Korea.