WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - A North Korean citizen accused by the United States of laundering money to circumvent US and UN sanctions over his country's nuclear weapons programme appeared in a US court on Monday (March 22) after extradition from Malaysia.
The US Justice Department said Mun Chol Myong, a businessman it said was affiliated North Korea's primary intelligence organisation, the Reconnaissance General Bureau, was the first North Korean ever extradited to the United States.
It said Mun appeared in federal court in Washington, where he was indicted in May 2019 on six counts of money laundering, including conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Mun was arrested in Malaysia 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 denied the allegations, saying they were politically motivated.
His lawyer, public defender Michelle Peterson, declined to comment on the indictment, which was unsealed on Monday.
North Korea said on Friday it would sever diplomatic relations with Malaysia after the extradition.
It called it 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".
North Korea warned that Washington, "the backstage manipulator and main culprit of this incident", would be "made to pay a due price".
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week the Biden administration would complete a review of US policy toward North Korea in the next few weeks.
The court papers indicated US authorities had indicted others in the case, including “Chinese co-conspirator” companies and individuals whose names were redacted.
The indictment said Mun had relocated to Malaysia from Singapore, where he had been employed by a firm called Sinsar Trading, which procured sanctioned luxury goods like liquor and tobacco.
It valued his alleged money-laundering transactions at over US$1.5 million (S$2 million).
John Demers, US assistant attorney-general for national security, said Mun's actions were aimed at evading both US and UN sanctions.
"We will continue to use the long reach of our laws to protect the American people from sanctions evasion and other national security threats," he said in a statement.
Alan Kohler, assistant director of the FBI's counterintelligence division, said bringing overseas defendants to justice was one of the division's biggest challenges, especially in the case of North Korea.
"We hope he will be the first of many," he said.