Human Trafficking NK Economics U.S. Law

‘Pyongyang Soju’ Importer Arrested

hangoverchaser.jpgA Korean American businessman has been arrested by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation on charges of hiding his activities as a spy for the South Korean government, AP reported Thursday. According to court documents obtained by the wire agency, Park Il-woo, also known as Steve Park, was a legal resident in the U.S. for the past 20 years and conducted business with North Korea. Park provided information he obtained from his frequent trips to North Korea to the South Korean government in return for payments.  [Chosun Ilbo]

I know others have  already blogged about this story, but something about that name, Steve Park, sounded familiar, so I searched my archives  … and sure enough.  According to this post from last May, “Steve Park” is the importer of Pyongyang Soju, the latest  great breakthrough in trade with North Korea.   OK, you say, “Steve Park” has to be a common name.   The thought occurred to me, but our friend at NK Econ Watch  (a very nice guy with a great blog) helps us close that loophole neatly.  Barring some exceptional coincidence, it’s the same guy.  His activities on behalf of some as-yet unnamed foreign government — want to take any wild guesses? —  turn out to involve items that raise some scary dual-use issues:

For example, during a recorded telephone call, Park relayed to a South Korean official working in Manhattan that officials of the other foreign government had asked Park to help them obtain certain items, including insecticides and anesthetics. However, the complaint alleges, on three occasions in 2005 and 2007, Park gave false information to FBI agents regarding his contacts with or knowledge of certain South Korean officials.  [DOJ Press release, hat tip to  Mins036, who is an excellent  new addition  to the  Marmot’s Hole]

Here’s an interesting question to consider:  if South Korea was sharing Park’s information with the FBI or the CIA, why would we arrest Park and burn someone who was an indirect source for us?  Unless … naw.   Couldn’t be.   Or could it?  The Feds executed search warrants at Park’s apartment, which may yield some phone numbers and e-mails.  I sure would  love to know which Korean diplomats’ tours  are about  to  be  curtailed before they’re quickly and quietly  ushered off to cush posts in Italy or Monaco. 

Contrary to what the Chosun Ilbo reports,  Park was arrested not for espionage, but for lying to investigators and violating our old friend, the Foreign Agents’ Registration Act, found  at section 951 of the U.S. Criminal Code.   The FARA  requires that you register with the Justice Department when you act at the direction of, or under the control of, a foreign government.  That’s the same law under which Tongsun Park was convicted for acting as an unregistered Iraqi agent during  Oil-for-Food.   Steve Park is now  staring  at  ten years in Allenwood, so I hope he has a better lawyer than Tongsun Park did.









  1. Was that hangover tea manufactured in North Korea? I don’t want to imagine what it’s made of or how it was made. Good sleuthing. I never made the connection.

    The guy’s a bit of a dumbo, isn’t he? He made six trips to North Korea, had tried previously to import NK goods, loudly publicized his latest business venture and apparently didn’t clue in that the FBI might be watching him, for he drove straight to a meeting with one of his SK handlers after an FBI interrogation.


  2. Yes, the hangover tea is from North Korea.

    I agree how amazingly dumb some people are in committing crimes. It would be reasonable to ask if Mr. Park even knew what the FARA required, except for the fact that he (allegedly) lied to the FBI about it. FWIW, I’ve represented plenty of people who were just as dumb.



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