North Korea fishing boat
A North Korean fisherman smokes a cigarette on a fishing boat at the port of Rajin, in North Korean Special Economic Zone of Rason City, northeast of Pyongyang Carlos Barria/Reuters

Two Chinese men living in Japan have been charged with exporting banned consumer goods into sanction-hit North Korea.

The men are believed to have smuggled nearly half a million dollars' worth of shampoo, ketchup and whisky into the secretive state, which is subject to strict sanctions imposed over its contentious, decades-long nuclear weapons programme. Gas cookers and sauce for pork cutlets were also exported, according to Japan daily Asahi Shinbun.

The men violated the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Control Law, police in the Oskaka prefecture alleged, and referred the case to state prosecutors on 17 January.

The suspects, aged between 41 and 42, are originally from China but have been living in Japan for a number of years. Police have charged the pair with moving 24 million yen ($216,600) into North Korea on eight separate occasions from October 2014 and January 2016. However, police believe that the overall value of smuggled goods could be closer to 60 million yen ($541,000/£319,000).

It is believed the orders for the goods were made by trading companies in China and then routed through Japan in an elaborate scheme to avoid sanctions. High-profile North Koreans are able to sidestep sanctions, which have been in place since 2006, through intermediaries across the Chinese border. Western goods, such as chocolate, toiletries and alcohol, command high prices in the country.

The men pretended to transfer the goods from a shipping port in Yokohama, Japan to another port in Dalian in eastern China but instead moved the cargo into North Korea without authorisation.

One of the smugglers claimed a large order for whiskey was made ahead of an anniversary event that celebrated the life of former leader, Kim Jong-il.