Businessman allegedly tied to North Korean intel extradited to US for money laundering charges

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The Justice Department revealed on Monday the first-ever extradition of a North Korean national to the United States.

An unsealed indictment said a businessman connected to North Korean intelligence services is accused of being involved in an international scheme laundering money through the U.S. financial system. The agency announced Monday that after two years of legal proceedings, Mun Chol Myong had been extradited to the U.S. after being held in a yet-unnamed country.

“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, the assistant attorney general for the National Security Division, said. “We will continue to use the long reach of our laws to protect the American people from sanctions evasion and other national security threats.”

Between April 2013 and November 2018, the Justice Department said Mun and others “conspired to covertly and fraudulently access the U.S. financial system” and alleged that Mun “defrauded U.S. banks and violated both U.S. and United Nations sanctions as part of his money laundering activities in transactions valued at over $1.5 million.” Investigators said Mun is connected to the Reconnaissance General Bureau, North Korea’s top intelligence service, which is itself subject to a host of U.S. and United Nations sanctions.

Investigators said Mun had been arrested in a foreign country by local authorities in May 2019 and that he made his initial appearance in federal court in the District of Columbia on Monday after being indicted nearly two years ago. The unsealed charges show he faces six counts of money laundering. The DOJ argued that Mun and his conspirators “went to great lengths to avoid detection of their sanctions-busting operation,” including using a “web of front companies and bank accounts registered to false names” and removing any references to North Korea from their international wire transfers. Prosecutors said Mun intentionally concealed that his activities were aimed at enriching North Korean entities and that he “deceived U.S. correspondent banks into processing U.S. dollar transactions for the benefit of DPRK entities, which the correspondent banks would have otherwise not processed.”

DOJ CHARGES NORTH KOREAN HACKERS IN GLOBAL CYBERTHEFT

“One of the FBI’s biggest counterintelligence challenges is bringing overseas defendants to justice, especially in the case of North Korea,” FBI Counterintelligence Division Assistant Director Alan Kohler Jr. said. “Thanks to the FBI’s partnership with foreign authorities, we’re proud to bring Mun Chol Myong to the United States to face justice, and we hope he will be the first of many.”

The newly unsealed indictment noted that the U.N. Security Council expanded its arms embargo against North Korea in 2009 and that the council sanctioned North Korea and the Reconnaissance General Bureau, which “trades in conventional arms and controls a North Korean conventional arms firm,” for violating the embargo. The indictment noted that, in 2017, the U.N. Panel of Experts Report determined that Malaysia-based Glocom sold radio communications equipment related to military materials and that it was “a front company of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea company Pan Systems Pyongyang Branch” that was itself linked to “Singaporean company named Pan Systems” — and that Pan Systems Pyongyang was operated by the Reconnaissance General Bureau. The panel said that year Mun was a Singapore-based supplier to Glocom and he provided a $100,000 deposit allowing the company to dodge U.S. sanctions.

The Justice Department said Mun relocated to Malaysia in 2017 “after Singapore expelled him due to his violations of UN Security Council Resolution 2321, which condemned North Korea’s September 2016 missile tests.” The indictment also alleged “Chinese Co-conspirator Company 1,” sanctioned for providing freight forwarding services to North Korea, and “Chinese Co-conspirator 1” of that same company assisted Mun in his money laundering scheme. Prosecutors said, “An object of the conspiracy was for the co-conspirators to enrich themselves by obtaining unlawful access to the U.S. financial system for North Korean entities, and to obtain commodities for export to North Korea that could only be purchased in U.S. dollars.”

This investigation was run out of the FBI’s Minneapolis Field Office and coordinated by the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, and the Justice Department thanked U.S. Indo-Pacific Command for its help too.

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Last month, the Justice Department charged a trio of North Korean military intelligence hackers with a broad array of yearslong, global cybertheft schemes, some of which included the attempted theft of more than $1.3 billion in money and cryptocurrency. Jon Chang Hyok, Kim Il, and Park Jin Hyok were identified by the DOJ as members of hacking units of the Reconnaissance General Bureau known as the “Lazarus Group.” The DOJ said they were at times stationed in countries such as China and Russia and are believed to be at large in North Korea.

That indictment, unsealed in February, detailed a host of cybercrimes carried out by the hackers, including the destructive cyberattack on Sony Pictures in November 2014 in retaliation for The Interview, a movie which mocked North Korea’s leader, and the retaliatory December 2014 hacking of AMC Theaters, which was slated to show the film.

The Justice Department had also charged the hackers with attempts to steal more than $1.2 billion from banks around the world, ATM “cash-out scheme” thefts including millions from BankIslami, the creation and deployment of WannaCry 2.0 ransomware beginning in 2017, the development of a range of malicious cryptocurrency applications beginning in 2018, which investigators alleged would provide the hackers with a backdoor into victim computers, the theft of tens of millions of dollars from cryptocurrency companies, and spear-phishing campaigns against U.S. defense contractors, the State Department, the Pentagon, and companies in the aerospace, energy, and technology arenas.

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