A sign marking North Korea's border with China. Photo: Wikipedia

Washington has stepped up actions targeting Chinese firms that have allegedly acted as financial lifelines for the North Korean regime.

US federal prosecutors are preparing actions that would result in the permanent seizure of funds that have been processed through US banks by the Chinese firms, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday. The escalation comes after the Washington US attorney’s office obtained warrants in May to freeze funds from the companies, pending further investigation.

The warrants obtained in May involved Dandong Zhicheng, as well as four other related front companies that allegedly bought North Korean coal with US dollars.

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