North Korea says it will sever ties with Malaysia over extradition of ‘innocent citizen’ to US

North Korea said it would sever diplomatic relations with Malaysia after a court there ruled that a North Korean man could be extradited to the United States to face money laundering charges, in a foreign ministry statement carried on state news wire KCNA on Friday (Mar 19).

(CNA) – On Mar 17, Malaysian authorities “committed an unpardonable crime … of forcibly delivering the innocent citizen (of North Korea) to the United States,” the statement read.

North Korea’s foreign ministry “hereby announces total severance of the diplomatic relations with Malaysia”, the statement added, slamming what it called a “hostile act” committed against Pyongyang “in subservience to the US pressure”.

North Korea also warned that Washington would “pay a price”, KCNA reported.

The statement described the unnamed individual as someone engaged in “legitimate external trade activities in Singapore”, insisting that it was a “fabrication … to argue that he was involved in ‘illegal money laundering'”.

Malaysia had been one of the nuclear-armed country’s few allies until the North Korean leader’s relative, Kim Jong Nam, was murdered with a banned nerve agent as he waited to catch a flight from Kuala Lumpur.

Ties plunged after the Cold War-style hit but had started to get back on track with Malaysia announcing the re-opening of its Pyongyang embassy – but Friday’s surprise move put a swift end to that.

The move came after a visit by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin to South Korea, the second leg of an Asian tour to bolster a united front against the nuclear-armed North and an increasingly assertive China.

On Thursday, the North accused the new US administration of adopting “lunatic theory”, ruling out any engagement with Washington unless it changed course.

On Mar 3, a North Korean man named Mun Chol Myong lost his final appeal in Malaysia’s top court against extradition to the United States to face money laundering charges.

Mun, who had lived in the Southeast Asian country for a decade with his family, was arrested in 2019 following the extradition request from Washington.

In court he denied FBI claims that he led a criminal group that violated sanctions by supplying prohibited items to North Korea and laundered funds through front companies.

He faces four charges of money laundering and two of conspiracy to launder money. The allegations relate mainly to his work in Singapore, according to his lawyers.

It is unclear what Mun is accused of supplying, but there have been cases of businesses in Singapore sending luxury items, such as liquor and watches, to North Korea.

The export to North Korea of some luxury goods has been banned as part of sweeping sanctions imposed on Pyongyang by the United Nations and other countries – including the United States – over its weapons programmes.

North Korea operated embassies in about 25 countries as of December last year, including Cuba, Iran, Germany, and its key ally China, according to Seoul.