A Malaysian judge has ruled that a North Korean businessman who lives in the country and faces money-laundering charges in the United States will go through extradition proceedings in late September.
Sessions Court judge Rohatul Akmar Abdullah set the date for Mun Chol Myong's extradition hearing after rejecting the North Korean’s bid to be released on bail, despite assurances from his defense attorneys that he would not abscond.
“The trial will start on Sept. 20,” Rohatul said Tuesday after discussing the trial calendar with prosecution and defense lawyers.
Mun, a 54-year-old businessman who had dealings in China, has been living in Malaysia for about 10 years. BenarNews sources said he was involved in the palm oil industry.
Malaysian authorities arrested Mun on May 13 after the United States had applied for his extradition and alleged he was in breach of international sanctions imposed against Pyongyang. He has been in detention in Kuala Lumpur since then and has attended several court hearings.
Before the case was elevated to the Sessions Court, a lower tribunal had twice denied Mun’s request for bail after hearing arguments from his attorneys that he was ill and needed medical attention.
Last month, a source in Malaysian intelligence told BenarNews that the United States viewed the charges against Mun as being in violation U.N. Security Council sanctions, which aim to deprive North Korea of funds that could be funneled into Pyongyang’s nuclear energy and nuclear-weapons program.
Six counts of charges against Mun include conspiracy and laundering monetary instruments in violation of the United States Code, according to an Agence France-Presse report, which cited FBI documents presented in court.
Prosecutors told reporters that Mun had allegedly traded “controlled items” with North Korea between 2014 and 2017. Local reports said the North Korean had sold liquor and luxury goods during his trips to Pyongyang.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Justice, which oversees the bureau, on Wednesday declined to comment to BenarNews about Mun’s case.
Last month, Magistrate Noorasyikin Sahat rejected Mun’s bail petition, saying he was deemed to be a flight risk. She cited rocky relations between Kuala Lumpur and Pyongyang following a diplomatic row in 2017 over the assassination of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, on Malaysian soil.
“The court agrees with the prosecution and agrees that there is no cause for allowing bail,” judge Rohatul said Tuesday.
Defense lawyer Jagjit Singh argued for bail.
He said the North Korean embassy had submitted a written guarantee to the court that its diplomats would ensure that Mun would attend its hearings in the case.
The same document had also been sent to the Malaysian Home Ministry, as well as the Attorney General’s Chamber, he said.
The embassy’s chargé d'affaires, Kim Yu Song, who has always attended Mun’s court hearings, made himself known to the judge on Tuesday and presented his diplomatic credentials.
But Deputy Public Prosecutor Faizul Aswad Masri responded that such a guarantee would not hold weight since there could be no legal repercussions against embassy officials because of their diplomatic immunity.
“The embassy assurance is invalid,” he said. “If they break their pledge, there can be no legal recourse that can be taken against them.”
Mun, dressed in a dark-blue polo shirt and flip-flops, appeared frail and tired throughout Tuesday’s three-hour hearing. He showed little emotion when his third bail application was rejected.
One of his defense attorneys told BenarNews that the extradition hearing could go on for about two months.
Mun holds a residency visa under the “Malaysia My Second Home” program, which allows foreigner to stay in the country for 10 years. The immigration department extended his visa for another 10 years in April.