U.S. official briefs Macau gov’t on frozen N. Korea funds

HONG KONG, Reuters

A senior U.S. Treasury official briefed Macau authorities on Monday on its investigation into a Macau bank and said the department was ready to begin steps to resolve the dispute over frozen North Korean funds.

Daniel Glaser, deputy assistant secretary for terrorism financing and financial crimes, declined to say what those steps were or when they would start, but he told reporters he did not think a 30-day deadline to resolve the issue that was part of a six-party talks deal struck two weeks ago would be extended.

In September 2005, the Treasury designated Macau’s Banco Delta Asia a primary money-laundering concern and called the bank a “willing pawn” in aiding illicit North Korean financing activities such as drug trafficking, distribution of counterfeit U.S. dollars and sales of illegal tobacco products.

The designation prompted the government of Macau, a special administrative region on China’s south coast, to freeze related accounts containing some US$24 million and take control of the bank. Glaser reiterated remarks he had made earlier this month that the Treasury was now “in a position where we can begin to take steps to resolve the Banco Delta Asia matter”, but gave no details.

Two weeks ago, North Korea agreed at six-party talks with the United States, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia to take steps towards nuclear disarmament in exchange for aid and other concessions, including a commitment from Washington to resolve the frozen funds issue within 30 days.

Asked if he thought the deadline, articulated by Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, would be extended, Glaser said: “No. I think that we certainly are on the same page with Ambassador Hill … We are working to move forward in an expeditious time fashion.”

Glaser applauded Macau’s actions in response to the Treasury’s designation of Banco Delta Asia as a concern, calling them “very responsible” and saying he was confident the former Portugese enclave would keep up the good work.