After Landmark Extradition, North Korean in US Court on Money Laundering Charges

Special to BenarNews
After Landmark Extradition, North Korean in US Court on Money Laundering Charges North Korean Embassy official Kim Yu Song carries luggage inside the compound in Kuala Lumpur after the country severed diplomatic ties with Malaysia, March 21, 2021.

The first North Korean national to be extradited to the United States – a possible financial crime information windfall for the U.S. – appeared in court to face money-laundering charges on Monday in Washington, where an FBI official said “we hope he will be the first of many.”

Mun Chol Myong, 55, who was extradited from Malaysia in a decision that led Pyongyang to cut diplomatic ties with Kuala Lumpur, appeared in federal court in the Washington to face six counts of money laundering, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement.

“This case represents the first-ever extradition to the United States of a DPRK national. Mun is accused of laundering money through the U.S. financial system as part of a scheme to provide luxury items to the DPRK,” it said, using North Korea’s official name, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“The indictment alleges that Mun defrauded banks and laundered money in an effort to evade counter-proliferation sanctions imposed on North Korea by the United States and the United Nations,” said Assistant Attorney Gen. John C. Demers of the Justice Department’s National Security Division in a statement.

Malaysia’s decision to extradite Mun nearly two years after his arrest in May 2019 caused an irate Pyongyang to sever decades-old diplomatic ties last week. Malaysia then ordered the North Korean diplomats out in 48 hours, and accused Pyongyang of attempting to meddle in its judicial system, where Mun Chol Myong lost a battle to halt his extradition.

Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said in a statement Sunday that the expulsion of the diplomats was a “reminder that Malaysia shall never tolerate any attempt to meddle in our internal affairs and judiciary, disrespect our governance system, and constantly create unnecessary tensions in defiance of the rules-based international order.”

Bilateral ties have been strained since the Pyongyang-linked murder of the estranged half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un at a Kuala Lumpur airport four years ago.

 ”[T]he Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the DPRK hereby announces total severance of diplomatic relations with Malaysia, which committed a large hostile act against the DPRK in subservience of the U.S. pressure,” said North Korean Charge d’affaires Kim Yu Song on Sunday, reading a statement from Friday.

“The Malaysian authority will bear full responsibility for all consequences to be incurred between the two countries,” Kim said.

‘Sanctions-busting operation’

Malaysia’s Federal Court earlier this month dismissed Mun’s final appeal against the extradition to face four counts of money laundering and two counts of conspiracy to launder money.

Through his lawyer, Mun had argued in court that he was the victim of a “politically motivated” extradition request aimed at pressuring North Korea over its missile program.

Mun, who had lived in Malaysia since 2008, was arrested in May 2019 after the U.S. accused him of supplying prohibited luxury goods to North Korea in violation of United Nations sanctions, imposed to curb the regime’s access to hard currency to fund its nuclear and missile programs.

He allegedly laundered funds through front companies and issued fraudulent documents to support illicit shipments to North Korea, while working in Singapore, prior to moving to Malaysia.

But Pyongyang claimed that Mun had been engaged in legitimate external trade activities in Singapore for many years.

“Mun and his conspirators went to great lengths to avoid detection of their sanctions-busting operation. They used a web of front companies and bank accounts registered to false names and removed references to the DPRK from international wire transfer and transactional documents,” said the DOJ statement, citing the indictment.

“By intentionally concealing that their transactions were for the benefit of DPRK entities, Mun and his conspirators deceived U.S. correspondent banks into processing U.S. dollar transactions for the benefit of DPRK entities, which the correspondent banks would have otherwise not processed,” the Justice Department said.

David Maxwell of the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said Mun’s extradition “is very, very important because it is the first case, and this North Korean is, of course, part of Kim Jong Un’s illicit activities network. He’s laundering money for the regime, and so it’s a significant, significant event.”

“They probably fear that this gentleman will provide information about how North Korea’s illicit activities network works,” he said. “They are shutting down activities in Malaysia to protect the rest of their global network, so it really is a significant event.”

North Korea reacted angrily to Mun’s case “because it does give the U.S. a tool if it’s able to extradite people to the United States. It takes them off of the playing field,” said Ken Gause, research program director at the Virginia-based CNA think tank.

“It’s people that the North Koreans normally would be able to get out of a situation in a particular country, especially like Malaysia which North Korea has very close relationships with,” he told Radio Free Asia, a sister entity of BenarNews.

“That’s going to potentially give the United States a weapon for gathering information about North Korea and what the North Koreans are up to,” Gause said.

In a comment published by the Justice Department, Alan E. Kohler Jr., assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, said, “One of the FBI’s biggest counterintelligence challenges is bringing overseas defendants to justice, especially in the case of North Korea.”

“Thanks to the FBI’s partnership with foreign authorities, we’re proud to bring Mun Chol Myong to the United States to face justice, and we hope he will be the first of many,” he said.


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