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North Korean loses last appeal to block extradition to US from Malaysia

Palace of Justice in Putrajaya, Malaysia (CEphoto, Uwe Aranas/WikiCommons)
March 11, 2021

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

A North Korean businessman in Malaysia on Tuesday lost his third and final attempt in the courts against being extradited to the United States to face money laundering charges, which stem from alleged violations of Washington’s sanctions on Pyongyang.

A three-judge Federal Court panel unanimously upheld a decision by the Kuala Lumpur High Court to deny Mun Chol Myong’s appeal.

In October, the high court, in upholding a verdict by the lower Sessions Court, ruled that the government had met all legal requirements for sending Mun to the United States, and said that the American government’s request to extradite him was not politically motivated as he alleged.

“Having produced the grounds of judgment, we find no reason to disagree with his lordship. The appeal is therefore dismissed, the order of the high court is affirmed,” Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan of the Federal Court said in handing down the panel’s decision.

“In considering this appeal we bear in mind that the application of this appeal stems from the extradition treaty entered into between the Malaysian government and the U.S. government, and that this extradition proceeding is not a trial as such, but the issue is whether there has been compliance with all the requirements for extradition,” the court ruled after listening to arguments from the defense and prosecutors for an hour.

Afterwards, Mun’s lawyer, Gooi Soon Seng, said the home minister had the final say on the businessman’s extradition. As of late Tuesday, it was not clear when the North Korean would be extradited to the United States.

On Tuesday, a spokeswoman in Washington for the U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment on Mun’s extradition, while the Malaysian home minister did not immediately respond to an inquiry from BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

Luxury goods

Mun, 55, was not in court on Tuesday because Malaysian law does not require the subject of a habeas corpus hearing to be present to determine whether the person’s detention is lawful. His wife and daughter, however, were there with officials from the North Korean embassy.

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

Mun, who lived in Malaysia for about a decade before his arrest, has been in Malaysian custody since May 14, 2019. He has been denied bail repeatedly because Malaysian courts consider him a flight risk.

In the courtroom on Tuesday, attorney Gooi argued that the charges against Mun were political, adding that his client was a pawn between Washington and Pyongyang.

“It started with the sanctions by the U.S. on North Korea. The transaction is legal, but they had to use the U.S. dollar. The U.S. dollar has been weaponized by the U.S. government,” Gooi argued. “Without the sanctions, there won’t be an offense. He is a victim caught in the eye of a political storm.”

Mun is facing four U.S. charges of money laundering and two charges of conspiracy to launder money.

Gooi said the case had failed to satisfy the requirement of dual criminality necessary for extradition – specifically that the crime cited by the requesting country is also a crime in the originating country.

“There is no crime of ‘fraud’ under Malaysian law. The closest is cheating and cheating is not an extraterritorial offense in Malaysia,” Gooi said, noting that Malaysia does not have a law that is equivalent to U.S. law on conspiracy that would require extradition. 

“If there is no offense, there is no case. He should not be remanded further,” Gooi said.

In response, Deputy Public Prosecutor Dusuki Mokhtar argued that the offenses did not need to be exact under both criminal codes to satisfy requirements for extradition.

“It does not need to be word-by-word exact per se; we do not need to furnish a mirrored charge. That is not a requirement of the law, not just in our country but also in other countries,” Mokhtar told the court. “It is very clear in this case that the offense is money laundering. It is very clear from the document we furnished.”

Responding to Gooi’s allegation that the charges were politically motivated, Mokhtar said the sanctions mentioned by Gooi was background information and not substantial to the case.

“The U.S. is only pursuing criminal charges against an alleged criminal, nothing on the feud between two countries. This is not relevant to consider the feud between the two countries,” he argued.