“Largest seizure of ammunition in history.”
Internal Egyptian government documents show officials in Cairo scrambling to do damage control after U.S. spy agencies uncovered an alleged scheme to smuggle North Korean military cargo into the country in defiance of international sanctions, reports The Washington Post.
In a story datelined Cairo, the daily states that newly-obtained records include what appears to be an explicit acknowledgment of the Egyptian military’s role in purchasing 30,000 rocket-propelled grenades. They were discovered hidden on a North Korean cargo ship in 2016. The vessel was headed to an Egyptian port in the Suez Canal at the time of the bust, described in a report by the United Nations as “the largest seizure of ammunition in the history of sanctions” against the communist state.
North Korean officials continued to demand payment for the estimated $23m weapons shipment, prompting fears among the Egyptians that they might be subjected to blackmail, according to the Foreign Ministry documents obtained by The Washington Post.
An Egyptian government spokesman declined to comment on the documents. The Post first reported on Egypt’s clandestine deal to purchase the North Korean grenades in October 2017, when a North Korean ship was seized off Egypt with a huge cache of weapons.
The North Korean-owned freighter Jie Shun was halted after U.S. intelligence agencies alerted Cairo to the possible presence of hidden contraband on board. Egyptian authorities uncovered the grenades and impounded the vessel. Only then did U.S. officials discover that the intended recipients were the Egyptians themselves.
Egyptian officials never publicly acknowledged purchasing North Korean military equipment, a practice that is banned under U.S. and U.N. sanctions. Trump administration officials in 2017 ordered a freeze on the delivery of $300m in military aid for Egypt, in part because of unspecified secret arms deals between Cairo and Pyongyang.
But strained ties with Washington were only part of the fallout over the arms deal. The new documents appear to show deep concern among Egyptian officials over a host of problems stemming from the discovery of the arms shipment, including the possibility that North Korea would threaten to expose details of the business relationship.
Photo: Cairo (Mohamed El-Shahed/Afp Via Getty Images)
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Egypt reportedly tried to cover up arms deal with North Korea