From today’s WSJ:
Officials Probe Auckland Firm’s Role in Seized Arms Cache
New Zealand officials are investigating whether an Auckland-based company has links to a weapons-filled plane from North Korea that was detained in Bangkok last week.
Investigators are still unsure where the plane — carrying 35 tons of missiles, explosives and other armaments — was heading or who coordinated the flight plan. Its five-member crew, from Kazakhstan and Belarus, remains in detention in Bangkok and all five have denied knowledge that there were weapons onboard.
Officials in Kazakhstan and the Republic of Georgia have said the aircraft, which is managed by Georgia-registered carrier Air West Ltd., was leased to carry the cargo by SP Trading Ltd., a New Zealand-registered company with offices in Auckland.
Air West director Nodar Kakabadze said he had no information about SP Trading. “We signed a contract with SP Trading Nov. 4 this year to carry out some flights. That’s it,” Mr. Kakabadze said by phone from the freight company’s base in the Black Sea port city of Batumi, Georgia. “I know nothing more about the company, and we’d never worked with them before.”
A copy of the lease agreement between Air West and SP Trading, obtained by Georgian aviation officials and viewed by The Wall Street Journal, lists a person named Lu Zhang as SP Trading’s director. New Zealand government records indicate SP Trading was incorporated there in July of this year and also list Lu Zhang as its director.
“We are indeed aware of this issue and the alleged link to New Zealand,” said a spokesman for New Zealand’s Foreign Ministry. “We are urgently seeking more information,” the spokesman said.
There’s also a short follow-up item on the New Zealand angle from Bloomberg today: New Zealand Probes Links to North Korea Arms Plane in Thailand. And there’s a story from the Times Online: North Korean arms plane ‘has links to New Zealand.’