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North Korean radio equipment shipped to Ethiopian military last year: UN report

Two shipments of radio equipment produced by the North Korean corporation Glocom were delivered to the Ethiopian military last year, a forthcoming U.N. Panel of Experts report states, raising questions about the efficacy of sanctions on the DPRK’s military-industrial complex.

The company — which deals in military radio, battlefield radar and software control systems — has also increased its online product offerings in spite of international sanctions on North Korea, according to a draft of the report seen by NK News, noting that a total of 15 radio systems were visible on its website as of Jan. 2023.

An unnamed member state reported to the Panel of Experts that the two shipments of Glocom radio equipment were sent to the Ministry of National Defence Directorate of Ethiopia in June 2022 for use by the country’s defense forces.

The transfer apparently took place despite EU sanctions on the firm and its close connections to North Korea’s Reconnaissance General Bureau.

The upcoming U.N. report also notes that Ethiopian media published a photo of Field Marshal Birhanu Jula, chief of General Staff of the Armed Forces, using probable Glocom radio communication equipment in Nov. 2022, adding that sanctions investigators had not received a response from Ethiopia about the report.

Ethiopia’s foreign ministry and defense forces did not reply to requests for comment from NK News. Glocom Corp. also did not respond to NK News inquiries made through a contact system for prospective buyers on its website.

A graphic showing the Glocom website | Image NK News

According to the Panel, seven radio systems were available on the Glocom website in Feb. 2020, 11 in Feb. 2021, and 15 in Jan. 2023. The company also offers four kinds of radar, four kinds of software, 13 kinds of unspecified military systems and eight kinds of military communication accessories, the draft report states.

The Panel of Experts notes that it was unable to communicate with Privacy Protect Business Development, a U.S. internet privacy firm that Glocom has used to obfuscate where website managers are based. Attempts by NK News to reach the company this week also went without reply.

Joost Oliemans, an NK Pro contributor and co-author of “The Armed Forces of North Korea,” said the U.N. picked up where open-source investigators at the Japanese website Deep Dive left off.

“Aside from the Ethiopian Chief Of Staff pictured in the U.N. doc, another image actually showed Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed using the equipment,” Oliemans said.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed talking on what appears to be a Glocom radio | Image: Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation, edited by NK News

Oliemans said that Glocom products remain popular in eastern Africa, including Eritrea, even though the company has been known as a target of sanctions investigators for some time.

“Glocom is taking a very prominent role in exports, presumably because its products are comparatively high value, easy to transport undetected and might remain undetected upon delivery for longer,” he said.

“In the DPRK itself, the company has also been important in improving the army’s C4ISR capabilities — an absolutely vital component to a well-functioning military that can mean the difference between effective operations and a quick collapse during war time,” Oliemans told NK News, using an abbreviation that stands for command, control, communications, computers (C4) intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR).

Katsu Furukawa, a former U.N. expert who worked with American and Chinese officials to keep tabs on North Korea’s overseas activities, said it was notable that Glocom had never been stopped.

“Glocom and its partner companies have been named in the UN Panel’s reports since 2017 almost every year,” he said. “Yet, the (Ethiopian and) Eritrean government and related entities have constantly been in partnership with the DPRK and Glocom.”

Zooming out, he said that countries like Ethiopia and Eritrea seemed to care little about being called out for North Korea-related transactions. “The information from the Panel’s latest report shows clearly that these governments have deliberately overlooked the sanction violations, and their negligence has made an essential contribution to the survival of the networks of these sanctions violators and evaders.”

NK Pro reported in January that North Korean soldiers had appeared in state media using Glocom equipment for the first time.

Oliemans noted that Pyongyang’s “increased emphasis on such products is an important indicator that North Korea’s military ambitions range beyond mere bluster … that they are taking calculated steps to keep their ground forces relevant on a tight budget.”

READ MORE: North Korea-linked firm offering expanded range of radio hardware online

Joshua Stanton, the founder of One Free Korea and an architect of U.S. sanctions legislation against North Korea, has criticized the lack of action against Glocom, stating that the company and other DPRK money-laundering fronts should have been designated years ago.

The lack of U.N. designation is due to the fact that the U.N. Security Council has not approved any new resolutions on the DPRK since 2018, according to Maiko Takeuchi, Japan’s former Panel of Experts member.

And despite Glocom’s multiple documented connections to Malaysia — including a physical office there as recently as 2017 — Kuala Lumpur foreign ministry officials in Feb. 2017 rejected suggestions that North Korean intelligence agents had used the country to sell military equipment through Glocom.

Edited by Bryan Betts

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