Australia

Sydney man charged with being 'economic agent' for North Korea

A man with a blurred face is led away by police officers following his arrest Image copyright AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE HANDOUT
Image caption It is the first time anyone has been charged under Australia's Weapons of Mass Destruction Act

A man has been arrested in Sydney for allegedly acting as an economic agent for North Korea, Australian Federal Police (AFP) have said.

Chan Han Choi, 59, has been charged with brokering illegal exports from the country and discussing the supply of weapons of mass destruction.

Police allege he has broken both UN and Australian sanctions.

The case against the suspect, who has lived in Australia for more than 30 years, is a first for the country.

Never before has someone been charged under the country's 1995 Weapons of Mass Destruction (Prevention of Proliferation) Act.

Police say there was evidence that Chan Han Choi had been in contact with "high ranking officials in North Korea".

They allege he had brokered services related to North Korea's weapons programme, including the sale of specialist services including ballistic missile technology to foreign entities, in order to generate income for the North Korean regime.

Chan Han Choi also was charged with brokering the sale of coal from North Korea to groups in Indonesia and Vietnam. He is facing six charges in total after being arrested at his home on Saturday night.

Image copyright AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE HANDOUT
Image caption The arrest was made in the Eastwood area of Sydney on Saturday

In a Sunday news conference, police confirmed the man was a naturalised Australian citizen of Korean origin who had been in the country for over 30 years.

They described him as a "loyal agent" who "believed he was acting to serve some higher patriotic purpose".

But police insisted the man's actions did not pose any "direct risk" to Australians, with the actions occurring offshore.

"I know these charges sound alarming. Let me be clear we are not suggesting there are any weapons or missile component that ever came to Australian soil," AFP Assistant Commissioner Neil Gaughan said.

"Any individual who attempts to fly in the face of sanctions cannot and will not go unnoticed in Australia."

The suspect could face up to 10 years in prison and has been denied bail.

In October the Australian government said they had received a letter from North Korea urging Canberra to distance itself from the Trump administration.

Pyongyang had previously warned that Australia would "not be able to avoid a disaster" if it followed US policies towards Kim Jong-un's regime.

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