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N. Korean ship sought to pay judgement in lawsuit

| Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015, 8:03 p.m.

UNITED NATIONS — Winning a lawsuit against North Korea is rare. Collecting millions of dollars in damages from the isolated country? Pretty much impossible. But an Israel-based civil rights group thinks it has found a way, starting with a North Korean ship that's been held, against Pyongyang's wishes, in a Mexican port for the past year.

The effort illustrates the challenges of holding North Korea to account in more ways than one.

The Shurat HaDin law center began its pursuit after winning a $330 million U.S. District Court judgment in April over the abduction of a South Korean-born pastor in China and his presumed torture and killing in North Korea 15 years ago. Now the center is aiming for whatever North Korean assets it can find.

It has focused on the Mu Du Bong, a cargo ship that accidentally ran aground off Mexico last July. Despite North Korea's protests, a panel of experts that monitors U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang for its nuclear and missile programs asked the Mexican government not to release it.

The ship's North Korean parent company, Ocean Maritime Management Co., has been under sanctions ever since another ship it operated was found to be carrying two Cuban fighter jets, missile and live munitions hidden under a cargo of sugar.

Seizing the Mu Du Bong requires that a Mexican court recognize the U.S. court's judgment. Civil courts in Mexico City and in the state of Veracruz have declined to hear Shurat HaDin's request, but it is now appealing.

The plan is to sell the ship to the highest bidder, with the money going to the South Korean pastor's family.

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