A North Korean national extradited to the US from Malaysia appeared in court on Monday to face money laundering charges.
Mun Chol Myong, 55, is the first North Korean national ever to be extradited to the US, the Department of Justice (DoJ) said.
Mun was not extradited by North Korea but brought to the US from another “foreign country” where he had been detained since May 2019, the department said in a statement.
The DoJ did not identify the country involved but North Korea severed diplomatic ties with Malaysia and closed its embassy on Sunday to protest Mun’s extradition.
Pyongyang called it an “unpardonable crime” carried out under “blind obedience” to American pressure.
The DoJ said Mun is accused of laundering money through the US financial system between April 2013 and November 2018 to provide luxury items to North 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 US and the United Nations,” Assistant Attorney-General John Demers said.
“We will continue to use the long reach of our laws to protect the American people from sanctions evasion and other national security threats.”
Alan Kohler, an FBI agent, 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 US to face justice, and we hope he will be the first of many,” Kohler said.
The DoJ said Mun made an initial appearance on Monday in federal court in Washington to faces six counts of money laundering in transactions valued at over US$1.5 million.
The indictment alleges that Mun was affiliated with North Korea’s primary intelligence organisation, the Reconnaissance General Bureau.
Malaysia had been one of Pyongyang’s few allies, but ties were already strained following the 2017 assassination of leader Kim Jong Un’s half-brother at klia2.
After Pyongyang cut ties, Malaysia gave North Korean diplomats 48 hours to leave the country.
On Sunday, the North Korean flag and a plaque were taken down from the country’s embassy – a large house in an upmarket area of Kuala Lumpur – and the gates were chained up.
Malaysia denounced Pyongyang’s move, and announced it would close its mission in North Korea, whose operations had already been suspended since the murder of Kim’s half-brother.