PANAMA CITY (AP) — Panama will soon decide whether to release or file weapon charges against the crew of a North Korean ship that was seized in July after it was found to be carrying Cuban fighter jets and missiles, an official said Friday.
Anti-drug prosecutor Javier Caraballo said that a decision is expected in early November.
Panama is expecting a visit soon by North Korean diplomats who will press for the 35 crew members' release from prison.
The crew members are accused of illegal possession of weapons, which carries a sentence of 12 years in prison.
The ship was headed from Cuba to North Korea when it was seized July 15 by authorities who suspected it carried drugs. A Panamanian official said the ship carried two Cuban fighter jets in perfect condition, contradicting Cuba's explanation that the cargo included "obsolete defensive weapons."
Foreign Minister Fernando Nunez said there is no legal impediment for the ship to return to North Korea but that Panama would retain the weapons and sugar it was carrying.
A preliminary report by U.N. experts determined that the seized ship violated U.N. sanctions.