North Korean Citizen Extradited to United States on Money Laundering Charges

For the first time ever, an extradited North Korean has appeared in a U.S. court. The extradition of Mun Choi Myong, a North Korean businessmen and suspected intelligence operative, has reignited tensions between Pyongyang and Washington, as the U.S. tries to maintain its hold over the international system.

As reported by the Department of Justice itself, Mun was extradited from his home in Malaysia on money laundering charges, accused of evading sanctions to provide luxury goods to his countrymen in North Korea. According to the DOJ, “Mun and his conspirators went to great lengths to avoid detection of their sanctions-busting operation,” redirecting wire payments through front companies and falsifying documents in order to allow American banks to process transactions. American sanctions on North Korea’s nuclear arsenal have a tight hold on any business flowing in or out of North Korea, and as Mun was using American banks, U.S. authorities saw fit to extradite him. His home of Malaysia, where Kim Jong-Un’s half-brother Kim Jong-Nam was assassinated in 2017, was willing to comply.

Perhaps of more importance that Mun’s business dealings is his suspected affiliation with North Korean intelligence, the Reconnaissance General Bureau. American officials expressed delight at the potential intelligence he could provide. “I am sure the [North Korean] regime fears that he will be of great intelligence value to the US if he confesses and provides information as part of a possible plea deal,” said David Maxwell of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a neoconservative think tank closely tied with many in the military community.

North Korea, for their part, expressed outrage at the extradition, calling it “a nefarious and unpardonly heavy crime,” according to Reuters. Some observers worry that North Korea may retaliate. The South China Morning Posts, a Chinese state-affiliated newspaper, said that “So great is the fall out, [North Korea analysts] say, that the possibility of Pyongyang’s retribution taking the form of assassinations – possibly even of innocent civilians – cannot be ruled out.” Not only may Mun be able to provide valuable intelligence for the U.S., his extradition sets a precedent which, to the powers that be in Pyongyang, could pose a serious danger.

The current regime in North Korea is not known for its restraint. Although the statement in the SCMP could be an empty threat, retaliation is within the realm of possibility. Malaysia, oddly enough, seems to be an arena in which North Korea and the West may play out more battles. North Korea stated it would cut diplomatic ties with the Indo-Pacific nation following the extradition, several years after the assassination on Malaysian soil.

The news comes in the wake of two ballistic missile tests in the Pacific conducted by North Korea, and they may choose to conduct more as a show of force. Policy pertaining to North Korea will be a delicate balance for Biden and the rest of the West, as they try to balance the well-being of the North Korean people, the ongoing tensions between the United States and North Korea’s biggest ally of China, and the threat posed by Kim and his regime. One can only hope that the escalations do not continue.