(ATTN: INSERTS 3rd para to highlight the North Korean national is suspected of affiliation with North Korea's intelligence office)
By Byun Duk-kun
WASHINGTON, March 22 (Yonhap) -- Court proceedings began here Monday for a North Korean national suspected of money laundering, the U.S. Department of Justice said.
The suspect, Mun Chol-myong, "made his initial appearance today in federal court in the District of Columbia, where he was indicted on May 2, 2019," the department said in a press release.
"The indictment further alleges that Mun was affiliated with the DPRK's primary intelligence organization, the Reconnaissance General Bureau, which is the subject of U.S. and U.N. sanctions," it added. DPRK stands for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the North's official name.
The 55-year-old was extradited last week after a two-year court battle between Malaysia and North Korea.
North Korea announced "total severance" of its diplomatic ties with Malaysia, arguing the Southeast Asian nation has been unable to provide a single shred of evidence to indict Mun.
Kuala Lumpur expressed strong regrets, ordering all North Korean diplomats and their families to leave the country within 48 hours from the North's announcement.
The Justice Department said Mun and others had conspired to covertly and fraudulently access the U.S. financial system between April 2013 and November 2018 "as part of a scheme to provide luxury items to the DPRK."
Shipments of luxury items to and from the impoverished North are prohibited, along with various other items including oil and weapons materials, under U.S. and U.N. Security Council sanctions.
"Mun is alleged to have defrauded U.S. banks and violated both U.S. and United Nations (U.N.) sanctions as part of his money laundering activities in transactions valued at over US$1.5 million," the department press release said.
The department said Mun faces six counts of money laundering. It did not provide the maximum sentence the North Korean may face if convicted.
"The indictment alleges that Mun defrauded banks and laundered money in an effort to evade counter-proliferation sanctions imposed on North Korea by the United States and the United Nations," John Demers, assistant attorney general for the department's national security division, was quoted as saying.
"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 is the first-ever North Korean national to be brought to the United States for trial.
He was arrested in Malaysia in May 2019.
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