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Pacific News Minute: Korean-Born Man Charged as “Patriotic” Agent of North Korea in Australia

Israel Defense Forces / Flickr
Israel Defense Forces / Flickr

More details have emerged about the Korean-born man arrested over the weekend in Australia. While Choi Han Chan faces charges that he tried to sell missile parts for North Korea, he’s also been described as a nice, polite hospital cleaner from a suburb of Sydney. We have more from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute.

To put it mildly, Choi does not fit the image of an international arms broker. According to neighbors from the Sydney suburb of Eastwood who spoke with The Australian, the 59 year-old had been a soft spoken regular at the local Korean Christian Church, until he began to travel to Pyongyang and adopted the North Korean cause.

“I hated that my husband met with him,” said the wife of a former friend. “All those trips to North Korea – he was very private and we thought it was very strange.”

Euan Graham, Director of International Security at the Lowy Institute, told the newspaper, “If North Korea is reliant on this kind of amateur, one-man operation, it shows just how desperate they are.”

Even so, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Choi Han Chan faces charges “of the gravest nature.” He allegedly tried to sell software for missile guidance systems, gemstones and coal that would have raised tens of millions of dollars for North Korea.

He is the first to face charges under Australia’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Act, and the first person anywhere charged specifically with violations of United Nations Sanctions on North Korea.

In its long effort to evade those sanctions, North Korea has gone to the black market to sell weapons, counterfeit currency and drugs, including a shipment of 275 pounds of heroin discovered when a North Korean cargo ship called the Pong Su ran aground on an Australian beach in 2003.

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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