Four Chinese nationals have been indicted for financial dealings with North Korean companies sanctioned for involvement in the production of weapons of mass destruction, the US Justice Department said Tuesday.
Ma Xiaohong, the head of Dandong Hongxiang Industrial Development Co. Ltd (DHID) and three top executives of the Chinese company were indicted by a federal grand jury in New Jersey, the department said in a statement.
The other three DHID executives indicted were identified as general manager Zhou Jianshu, deputy general manager Hong Jinhua and financial manager Luo Chuanxu.
"Through the use of more than 20 front companies, the defendants are alleged to have sought to obscure illicit financial dealings on behalf of sanctioned North Korean entities that were involved in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction," assistant attorney general John Demers said.
"Ma, her company, and her employees tried to defraud the United States by evading sanctions restrictions and doing business with proliferators of weapons of mass destruction," said US Attorney Craig Carpenito.
A Justice Department spokesman said the four DHID executives are not in US custody and are believed to reside in China.
The Chinese foreign ministry said on Wednesday that the country's judicial department was "handling" the case, without elaborating.
"China opposes the implementation of 'long-arm jurisdiction' towards Chinese entities and individuals by the US according to its domestic laws," said Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying at a press briefing in Beijing.
The foreign ministry's remarks echo its response nearly three years ago when the US Justice Department announced criminal charges against DHID.
At the time, China said it was investigating the company for "economic crimes and other illegal activities".
DHID, according to the indictment, was based in the Chinese city of Dandong in Liaoning Province along the border with North Korea and its primary business was import and export trade with North Korea.
DHID allegedly set up front companies to work with North Korea-based Korea Kwangson Banking Corp. (KKBC), which has ties to two other sanctioned North Korean entities -- Tanchon Commercial Bank (Tanchon) and Korea Hyoksin Trading Corporation (Hyoksin).
Tanchon and Hyoksin are subject to US sanctions because of their links with the Korea Mining Development Trading Co. (KOMID), which the United States considers North Korea's premier arms dealer and main exporter of goods and equipment related to ballistic missiles and conventional weapons.
Ma, Zhou, Hong and Luo face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine for violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA).
They face a maximum of five years in prison for conspiracy to violate IEEPA and a maximum of 20 years in prison for conspiracy to launder monetary instruments.
US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed to a resumption of their dialogue at an impromptu meeting in the Demilitarized Zone that divides the two Koreas on June 30.