Christmas behind bars for alleged North Korean agent

A 59-year-old man who allegedly provided services to a “weapons of mass destruction program” on behalf of the rogue North Korean regime has appeared in court.

Chan Han Choi was arrested at his Eastwood apartment at the weekend, and faces six charges related to brokering the sale of missiles, missile parts and expertise from North Korea to “other international entities” and attempting to transfer coal from North Korea to non-government buyers in Indonesia and Vietnam.

All offences allegedly relate to the period between August and December this year.

Mr Choi, from Eastwood, appeared in prison greens at Central Local Court on Wednesday via audio-visual link from Silverwater Correctional Centre.

The 59-year-old has been charged with two counts of contravening a sanction law, two counts of contravening a United Nations enforcement law and two counts of providing service for a weapons of mass destruction program.

It is the first time anyone has been charged under Australia’s Weapons of Mass Destruction (Prevention of Proliferation) Act 1995.

Federal police allege Mr Choi was acting to raise funds for the North Korean regime, which could have raised tens of millions of dollars for Pyongyang, if successful.

The attempted transactions related to the sale of coal, to third parties in Indonesia and Vietnam, and the sale of missile guidance systems and other missile componentry.

Outside court on Wednesday Mr Choi’s barrister Alex Radojev said he was on his way to meet Mr Choi for the first time.

“I don’t know how he’s going because I haven’t met him,” he said, adding that the charges “appear to be very serious”.

Mr Choi first came to the attention of the Australian Federal Police several months ago, following a tip-off by an overseas agency.

In response the AFP formed Operation Byahaut and began conducting surveillance.

Following Mr Choi’s arrest AFP Assistant Commissioner Neil Gaughan stressed that there had been no risk to the Australian public.

“This is black market 101,” he said. “We are alleging that all the activity occurred offshore, and was purely another attempt for this man to trade goods and services as a way to raise revenue for the government of North Korea.

“This was his goal.”

Mr Gaughan said the South Korean-born man had been acting “to serve some higher patriotic purpose” to the rogue state.

On Wednesday the AFP announced it would be investigating itself after a social media bungle, which saw a minute-long discussion about managing media surrounding Mr Choi’s arrest accidentally aired on the live-streaming app Periscope.

“The incident occurred when testing a piece of social media broadcasting equipment,” an AFP spokesman said.

“The matter has been referred to the AFP’s Security area for review. As such, no further comment will be made at this time.”

Mr Choi will remain behind bars over Christmas, to reappear in court via audio-visual link on February 28.

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