SEOUL – North Korea severed diplomatic relations with Malaysia on Friday after that country’s Supreme Court agreed to extradite a North Korean man accused of money laundering to the United States. This was a major coup in Washington’s efforts to stifle illegal trade in Pyongyang.
In a ruling last week, the Malaysian federal court approved the extradition of a North Korean citizen, Mun Chol-myong, and rejected his argument that the case against him was politically motivated and that he was in the crosshairs of diplomatic hostility between North Korea and Washington.
Washington has attempted to bring Mr Mun to the United States on criminal charges of laundering money through front-line firms and violating international sanctions by helping to move banned luxury items from Singapore to North Korea on behalf of the Pyongyang regime to transport. Mr. Mun was arrested in Malaysia in 2019, where he moved from Singapore in 2008.
Mr. Mun was the first North Korean extradited to the United States and placed on trial. His extradition is part of Washington’s efforts to crack down on widespread sanction avoidance activities by North Korean businessmen and diplomats. Over the years the United Nations Security Council has imposed a number of increasingly stringent sanctions on North Korea to restrict the country’s access to foreign currencies that it has used to fund its nuclear and missile programs.
On Friday, North Korea identified the United States as the “backstage manipulator and main culprit” behind Mr. Mun’s extradition and warned that Washington “must pay a fair price”. It was not elaborated on, but its announcement came a day after North Korea announced it would not respond to any attempt by the new Biden administration to establish a communication channel through which an end to Pyongyang’s growing nuclear weapons program could be negotiated.
The negotiations fell apart after the meetings between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and former President Donald J. Trump ended abruptly in 2019.
“It is a shameful act and an unforgivably grave crime,” the North Korean State Department said in a statement by its official Korean Central News Agency on Friday, accusing Malaysia of offering Mr. Mun “a victim of US hostile policies.” The “complete separation of diplomatic relations with Malaysia” would take effect immediately.
Relations between North Korea and Malaysia were already frosty after Kim’s estranged half-brother Kim Jong-nam was murdered at an airport in Kuala Lumpur in February 2017. Two women hired by agents from Pyongyang smeared his face with the internationally banned VX nerve agent. North Korea denied involvement.
After the incident, the two countries expelled ambassadors from their capitals.
North Korea’s break in relations with Malaysia will deepen its diplomatic isolation. After the North conducted its sixth and final nuclear test in 2017, several countries, including Mexico, Spain and Kuwait, expelled North Korean ambassadors despite United Nations resolutions.
North Korean diplomats have also left their overseas posts in recent years.
Thae Yong-ho, a minister at the North Korean embassy in London, relocated to Seoul with his wife and two sons in 2016. Jo Song-gil, a high-ranking North Korean diplomat who disappeared from Italy in late 2018, also ended up in Seoul, according to the South Korean legislature. Ryu Kyeon-woo, a senior North Korean diplomat who fled his post in Kuwait in 2019, has also appeared in South Korea.
State Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III met with their South Korean counterparts in Seoul on Thursday. Afterward, the two allies said they would coordinate their approaches to North Korea when the Biden government completes its policy review in the next few weeks. Washington said it had tried to set up a diplomatic channel since last month, but North Korea hadn’t responded.
North Korea’s first deputy foreign minister, Choe Son-hui, said Thursday that North Korea had no need to respond to the “US delay time trick” and that the dialogue would only be possible after the US had ended its “hostile policy”. ”
During his hearing in Malaysia, Mr. Mun, who is in his fifties, refused Laundering money or issuing fraudulent documents in support of illegal shipments to his home country. His lawyer called him “a farmer caught in the rivalry between the US and North Korea”.