North Korea to sever ties with Malaysia over extradition of citizen to US: KCNA

On March 9, Malaysia's top court ruled that Mun Chol Myong could be extradited to the US to face money laundering charges.
On March 9, Malaysia's top court ruled that Mun Chol Myong could be extradited to the US to face money laundering charges.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

SEOUL (REUTERS) - North Korea said it would sever diplomatic relations with Malaysia after a court there ruled that a North Korean man could be extradited to the United States to face money laundering charges, state media KCNA reported on Friday (March 19).

North Korea's foreign affairs ministry also warned Washington would "pay a price", in a statement carried by KCNA.

Malaysia’s foreign ministry later on Friday denounced the decision by North Korea to sever diplomatic ties, describing the move as “unfriendly and unconstructive”.

In a statement, the ministry said Malaysia would close its embassy in Pyongyang in response and order all diplomatic staff at the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur to leave the country within 48 hours.

 "Malaysia had been persistent in pursuing concrete efforts to strengthen our relations with the DPRK even after the deplorable assassination of Kim Jong Nam in 2017," the Malaysian ministry said. "In this respect, the DPRK’s unilateral decision is clearly unwarranted, disproportionate and certainly disruptive towards the promotion of peace, stability and prosperity of our region".

The North Korean statement did not name its citizen, but in early March, Malaysia’s top court ruled that a North Korean man, Mun Chol Myong, could be extradited. 

Mun had been arrested in 2019 after the United States accused him of laundering funds through front companies and issuing fraudulent documents to support illicit shipments to North Korea. He fought the extradition request, arguing that it was politically motivated.

The North Korean foreign ministry called the extradition a "nefarious act and unpardonably heavy crime" by Malaysian authorities, who had "offered our citizen as a sacrifice of the US hostile move in defiance of the acknowledged international laws".

Malaysia's actions had destroyed "the entire foundation of the bilateral relations based on the respect for sovereignty," it said.

Malaysia's once-close ties with North Korea were severely downgraded after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's estranged brother, Kim Jong Nam, was killed at a Kuala Lumpur airport in February 2017 when two women smeared his face with VX nerve agent, which the United Nations lists as a weapon of mass destruction.

Malaysia suspended operation of its embassy in 2017 after it secured the safe return of nine citizens held in Pyongyang in exchange for the release of Kim Jong Nam’s body. 

Despite a promise by Malaysia’s then-premier Mahathir Mohamad during an apparent thaw in diplomatic relations in 2018, the embassy never resumed operations. 

North Korea had used Malaysia as a hub for its arms export operation, and to set up business entities for funneling money to North Korea’s leadership. 

The ministry’s statement did not mention what would happen to North Korea’s embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

"We warn in advance that the US - the backstage manipulator and main culprit of this incident - that it will also be made to pay a due price," KCNA reported.

On Thursday US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the administration of President Joe Biden would complete a review of its North Korea policy in the next few weeks in close consultation with allies.