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North Korean businessman in Malaysia loses appeal against extradition to US

Old High Court building, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (Smuconlaw/WikiCommons)
October 10, 2020

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

The Kuala Lumpur High Court on Thursday rejected a North Korean businessman’s appeal against being extradited to the United States on money laundering charges, but he will appeal to the Federal Court to reverse that decision, according to his lawyer.

Mun Chol Myong, 55, a longtime resident of Malaysia, has been in the custody of Malaysian authorities since May last year after being arrested following an extradition request from Washington. In September, he appealed to the High Court against a December 2019 Sessions Court order that allowed his deportation.

Mun’s pending appeal before the higher Federal Court – the nation’s top court – will be his last legal step in his effort to stave off extradition.

In his ruling Thursday, High Court Judge Ahmad Shahrir Mohd Salleh said the court believed there was enough evidence to show that Mun’s offenses were a crime both in Malaysia and the U.S., while there was no indication that the charges against him were politically motivated, like he had alleged.

“I hereby dismiss the applicant’s application for a writ of habeas corpus and uphold the warrant for committal granted by the Sessions Court to detain the applicant pending the issuance of the order by the Minister for his surrender,” Mohd. Salleh ruled.

“The fact that the U.S. is [only] seeking to enforce its anti-money laundering law is sufficient to dispel any suggestion” that the charges are politically motivated, the judge added.

Mun was not in court because under Malaysian law, the subject in a habeas corpus hearing is not allowed to be present. His wife was seated in the public gallery, along with officials from the North Korean embassy.

Mun had previously denied allegations by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that he had led a group of criminals who violated sanctions on North Korea by supplying luxury goods to his reclusive home country and laundering money through front companies.

After Thursday’s ruling, Mun’s attorney said his client had instructed him to appeal to the Federal Court to reverse the judgment because Mun believed he didn’t receive a fair trial.

The judge did not consider Mun’s affidavit, as per a provision in Malaysia’s Extradition Act 1992, and that is “unconstitutional,” defense lawyer Gooi Soon Seng said.

“The judge says that Section 20 bars the court from looking into the affidavit of the applicant. So that’s why we challenge that Section 20 is unconstitutional,” he told BenarNews, an RFA-affilliated online news service.

Gooi was referring to a provision of the Extradition Act that allows the country’s Home Minister to withhold an accused’s affidavit from the court if it contradicts the allegations, which are the basis for extradition.

“[The judge is] not looking into the affidavit of the accused. He was only looking at affidavits provided by the Americans,” Gooi said.

In his appeal in September, Mun also told the court through Gooi that dual criminality didn’t apply in his case because the U.S. allegations against him had to do with his work in neighboring Singapore and not in Malaysia.

In 2014, Mun was employed as a business development manager with a Singapore-based company, which supplies goods to North Korea.

Mun’s lawyer further claimed in September that the U.S. charges were politically motivated because Washington had imposed sanctions on Pyongyang.

“If there are no sanctions, then there is no crime. The sanctions are political because the United States did not like North Korea doing rocket tests,” Gooi said at the time.

On Thursday, Mohd. Salleh said Malaysia’s Extradition Act 1992 did restrict the extradition of those accused of offenses of a political nature, but that restriction did not apply to Mun because he was wanted by the U.S. for money laundering.

Last year, a source in Malaysian intelligence told BenarNews that the U.S. believed Mun had violated U.N. Security Council sanctions, which were aimed at depriving North Korea of funds that could be funneled into Pyongyang’s nuclear programs

In the September hearing when he filed the appeal to the high court, Gooi argued that Section 20 of the Extradition Act violated an article of the constitution.

“We argue that the law contradicts Article 5 of the Federal Constitution where it is a person’s fundamental right to have a fair trial,” Gooi had said.

Article 5 of Malaysia’s constitution refers to, among other things, the right of a person arrested to be told the reason for his arrest.