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Singapore wholesaler allegedly exported over $341,000 of Pokka drinks to North Korea

·Senior Reporter
·3-min read
Pokka green tea, a product of Pokka Singapore, on the shelves. (PHOTO:Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore)
Pokka Singapore is known for its range of sugared beverages, including green tea. (PHOTO:Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore)

(UPDATE: Pokka's comment on 27 May added)

SINGAPORE — A wholesale supplier was charged on Wednesday (25 May) with exporting Pokka drinks to North Korea, in breach of United Nations sanctions.

123 Duty Free was handed five charges under Singapore’s Regulation of Imports and Exports Regulations for importing assorted Pokka drinks worth around S$341,318 to the hermit state on five occasions between 10 April and 8 August 2018. The flavours under the brand include Melon Milk, Strawberry Milk, and Milk Coffee.

Singapore had been North Korea's seventh largest trading partner before it suspended trade relations in 2017 in response to escalating tension over the latter’s nuclear and missile programmes.

In 2019, NK News reported that Pokka Singapore had pressured a distributor into hiding its dealings in North Korea after an earlier report stated that the firm was actively seeking resellers in the country despite the trade ban.

Pokka Singapore later denied reports that it was trying to illegally export its products into the reclusive state.

In a statement issued to Yahoo Finance Singapore after 123 Duty Free's court case, Pokka said that it never had a "known relationship" with 123 Duty Free. A spokesperson added that it had supplied products to 123 Holdings between April and August 2018 with the "clear expectation" that these would be "distributed in compliance with the law".

"Pokka has not been charged with any offences relating to the export of its products to North Korea and is committed to complying with all national laws and UN sanctions, including ensuring that it has no dealings with North Korea," the company said.

"Pokka has a strict management policy not to trade with distributors that export to North Korea directly or indirectly. Furthermore, Pokka would immediately suspend business with customers, in and outside Singapore, that are suspected of trading in North Korea."

If convicted for the first time, 123 Duty Free may be fined up to $100,000, or three times the value of the goods exported, whichever is greater.

Repeat offenders face a fine of up to $200,000 or four times the value of the goods involved, whichever is greater.

Alcohol supplier charged for supplying wine and spirits

Separately, a second company, alcohol distributor 123 Holdings was also charged on Wednesday with breaching United Nations sanctions by exporting wine and spirits to North Korea.

123 Holdings is said to have supplied the alcohol, worth some S$720,447, to North Korea via China on five occasions between 20 November 2016 and 23 July 2017. Some of the brands allegedly supplied include Chivas Regal, Ballantines, Remy Martin, and Jack Daniel Black.

Wines and spirits are considered designated luxury items. Under the United Nations Act, no person in Singapore or Singapore citizen is permitted to export any such item to any person in North Korea.

Both firms will have their cases mentioned again on 27 June.

If found in breach of sanctions, 123 Holdings may be fined up to S$1 million.

In 2020, a director of three companies which supplied luxury goods to North Korea was jailed for three weeks. Chong Hock Yen's jail term was doubled to six weeks by the High Court following an appeal by the prosecution earlier this year.

The three firms, SCN Singapore, Sindok Trading and Laurich International, had supplied perfumes, cosmetics, watches and musical instruments to North Korea between December 2010 and November 2016. Each of the firms, which were issued fines by the district court, also had their fines increased after the appeal.

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