News Update

For the first time, the Justice Department extradites a North Korean to stand trial in the U.S.


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Today, the Justice Department announced that for the first time, it has extradited a North Korean national to the United States. Mun Chol Myong, who was based in Malaysia, and whom DOJ claims to be an agent of the Reconnaissance General Bureau, allegedly laundered money through the United States to do deals between the Foreign Trade Bank of North Korea (designated in 2013 for WMD proliferation financing), the military electronics manufacturer, Glocom, and other wholesome types.

Funny, no mention of TB medicine or baby formula. You can read the indictment here:

Mun Chol Myong indictment

Mun undoubtedly knows many things about where Pyongyang hides his money, and his intelligence value could be inestimable. But the real impact of his extradition was to persuade Kim Jong-un that Malaysia was no longer a safe place for his agents, and to panic him into pulling his people out and cutting diplomatic relations. That will be a significant shock to Kim’s finances, because Malaysia was one of the largest hubs of North Korea’s money laundering operations.

Bad things tend to happen when you slime another country’s airports with nerve agents. The real surprise is that this breach didn’t happen four years ago.

It’s important to remember that the grand jury likely heard evidence for weeks (if not months) before it returned a true bill, probably in early 2019, judging from the overt acts charged in the indictment. The feds first sought Mun’s extradition in May. Two years of Malaysian extradition proceedings followed. So, for all the journalists who are seeking political significance in this, there probably isn’t any, aside from some insight into the thinking of the early Trump administration, whose diplomats would have played a role in asking the Malaysians to extradite. It probably tells us nothing about the Biden administration’s policy—indeed, it would be highly improper for the Biden administration to interfere with an indictment for political reasons. It may, however, give the new administration another alternative strategy for flushing out North Korean financial networks in other countries.

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