US charges North Koreans, Chinese nationals in multi-billion dollar money laundering scheme

Prosecutors say the officials propped up more than 250 front companies.

Federal prosecutors on Thursday unsealed a 50-page indictment charging dozens of individuals who they accuse of illegally transferring more than $2.5 billion through the global financial system to North Korea's foreign exchange bank since 2013 in an effort to skirt U.S. sanctions.

The grand jury indictment charged 28 North Koreans and five Chinese nationals with propping up "over 250 front companies" to launder payments that "transited through the United States," after the Foreign Trade Bank had been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department over its support of North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

The indictment identifies covert branches created by the bank and operating in China, Russia, Thailand, Libya, Austria and Kuwait that prosecutors said helped to facilitate the payments.

Among those charged were two former presidents of the Foreign Trade Bank, Ko Chol Man and Kim Song Ui, both of whom have been directly targeted with sanctions by the U.S. Treasury Department for helping steer financing to North Korea's weapons of mass destruction program.

The case has been under seal since February and none of the officials charged in the indictment are currently in U.S. custody.

The announcement of the charges comes as nuclear talks between the U.S. and North Korea remain in limbo, after North Korean state media reported earlier this week that Kim Jong Un convened a meeting with military leaders to discuss "bolstering" the country's nuclear arsenal.