A Sydney man has been charged with allegedly acting as a black market economic agent for North Korea and discussing the supply of weapons of mass destruction.
Chan Han Choi, 59, is accused of brokering exports from North Korea to generate income for the oppressive government, in breach of United Nations and Australian sanctions.
He allegedly facilitated the sale of ballistic missiles, componentry and military expertise internationally. The Eastwood man is also accused of attempting to transfer coal from North Korea to Indonesia and Vietnam.
Australian Federal Police executed a search warrant at a south Sydney home on Saturday after a “very complex” investigation, following a tip-off from an international agency.
Mr Choi was born in South Korea but is not a citizen of the country. He has lived in Australia for about 30 years and is an Australian citizen.
AFP Assistant Commissioner Neil Gaughan said there was no risk to the Australian public.
“This case is like nothing we have ever seen on Australian soil,” Assistant Commissioner Gaughan said.
“The Australian public should be assured that police have acted to ensure no direct risk to our community. The AFP endeavours to support international efforts to maintain peace and security.”
Assistant Commissioner Gaughan was quick to label Mr Choi a broker, not a spy.
“This man was a loyal agent of North Korea, who believed he was acting to serve some higher patriotic purpose,” he said.
“I think at the end of the day he would sell whatever he could to make money back for the North Korean government.
“His actions were all around trying to raise revenue for the government of North Korea.”
Mr Choi has been charged over two transactions that were unsuccessful.
“But we estimate that if these trades were successful we’re talking tens of millions of dollars.”
Assistant Commissioner Gaughan said no officials of the Indonesian or Vietnamese governments were involved.
It’s alleged the man was using encrypted communication to broker sales and discuss the supply of weapons of mass destruction.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he had been briefed on the arrest and congratulated the AFP for its investigation.
“It is important for people to know that if they are assisting the North Korean regime, or they are thinking of assisting them, the AFP will find you and arrest you,” he told reporters in Sydney.
Mr Choi faces six charges, and was the first person to be charged under the Weapons of Mass Destruction Act.
The charges relate to alleged activity over the past year, but allegations date back to 2008.
The maximum penalty for the offences is 10 years’ imprisonment.
Investigations are continuing and further charges have not been ruled out.
Mr Choi didn’t appear or apply for bail when his matter was mentioned in Parramatta bail court on Sunday, and it was formally refused by Acting Magistrate Carl Milovanovich.
Mr Milovanovich adjourned the matter to December 20 in Central Local Court.
– with AAP