China has "come under fresh pressure" over North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's slush funds held in dozens of accounts in the country, the South China Morning Post reported on Wednesday.
The daily quoted reports that bank accounts belonging to Kim under borrowed names and amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars have been found in Shanghai and other Chinese cities.
Chinese bankers told the daily that the banks mentioned in the reports not only referred to Shanghai-headquartered banks but also Shanghai branches of foreign banks, the daily added.
"It is up to the central bank's anti-money-laundering unit to investigate suspicious capital flows and deals," it quoted a banker close to the People's Bank of China as saying. "But given the political implications of this matter, the central bank would have to receive direction from the top leadership before taking concrete steps in conducting probes."
It quoted Prof. Du Jifeng from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences as saying international pressure to impose more sanctions on Pyongyang over the bank accounts "would create a dilemma for China's leaders."
"Beijing would be reluctant to take action if the bank accounts were personal accounts of Kim Jong-un," Du was quoted as saying. "Beijing is worried that it could damage personal ties with the North Korean leader."
A diplomatic source in Beijing also said it is unlikely that China will seize or freeze the accounts "unless it is proved that illicit activities are involved."
In a press briefing on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying denied knowing about the reports.
She added China will handle the matter "in accordance with international rules and regulations as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a responsible member of the international community."