The US has extradited a suspected North Korean intelligence operative to stand trial on money laundering charges, as tensions rise between Washington and Pyongyang

Kim Jong Un News Conference North Korea March 25 2021
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaking on TV on Thursday.

  • A North Korean national has been extradited to the US to stand trial on money laundering charges.
  • Mun Chol Myong was an “intelligence operative” based in Singapore, according to the indictment.
  • Tensions have risen between Washington and Pyongyang, as Biden looks for a path forward.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The US has for the first time extradited a North Korean national to face a criminal trial in America, according to the Justice Department.

An indictment unsealed this week alleged that Mun Chol Myong, 55, defrauded banks and laundered money in an attempt to skirt US and UN sanctions on North Korea.

“He is the first North Korean intelligence operative – and the second ever foreign intelligence operative – to have been extradited to the United States for violation of our laws,” said John C. Demers, assistant attorney general for the DOJ National Security Division, in a statement.

Demers continued: “We will continue to use the long reach of our laws to protect the American people from sanctions evasion and other national security threats.”

Mun this week made his initial appearance in federal court in Washington, DOJ officials said. He was detained by local authorities in Malaysia in May 2019. His case has been ongoing in local courts since then.

Biden
President Joe Biden.

The news came as tensions between the two countries flared. On Wednesday, North Korea’s military tested two ballistic missiles, according to multiple reports. A US official told NBC News that the test “threatens the peace and security of the region and our nation.”

Earlier in the week, President Joe Biden’s administration said it would soon finish its in-depth review of Washington-Pyongyang policy, including the relationship fostered by the previous administration.

Senior administration officials said last week that they’d spoken with former officials “to get their sense of how their diplomacy with North Korea worked out over the last four years.”

President Donald Trump notably went to the DMZ to meet Kim Jong Un, the reclusive North Korean leader, in 2018. The two talked privately, and reportedly later sent each other “love letters.”

Officials in Biden’s administration have reportedly been trying to contact North Korean officials since mid-February, but haven’t received a response.

“All I can tell you is that we are on our forward foot, in terms of wanting to clearly signal that we are prepared for continuing engagement in Northeast Asia with key partners and indeed with North Korea,” a senior Biden administration official said this week.

North Korea Embassy Malaysia
North Korean diplomats leaving Malaysia last week.

In response to the US extradition of one of its nationals, North Korea pulled embassy workers from Malaysia, according to multiple reports. The South China Morning Post reported that the “hermit kingdom was outraged” over the extradition.

The newly unsealed indictment, which was signed by a grand jury in May 2018, accused Mun and other unnamed suspects of laundering money through the US financial system. While based in Singapore, Mun worked for Sinsar Trading Pte. Ltd., which used front companies to launder more than $1.5 million, the indictment said.

The DOJ said Mun and others created shell companies to hide their ties to North Korea, giving them access to US correspondent banks and international wire services, breaking sanctions.

“The indictment further alleges that Mun was affiliated with the DPRK’s primary intelligence organization, the Reconnaissance General Bureau, which is the subject of US and UN sanctions,” the DOJ said.

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