South Korean prosecutors have indicted three South Korean nationals, identified only by the surnames “Bang,” “Kim,” and “Hwang,” for “bringing in methamphetamine from North Korea and attempting to assassinate” Hwang Jang-Yop, North Korea’s highest-ranking defector until his death in 2010. Let’s unpack these two criminal conspiracies one at a time, starting with the meth:
The 69-year-old, identified only by his family name Bang, and two others have been detained for producing 70 kilograms of methamphetamine at a North Korean factory in Sariwon, North Hwanghae Province, in June and July of 2000, a prosecutor at the Seoul Central Prosecutors’ Office said.
They were suspected of being contacted through another South Korean, identified by his surname Lee who died in 2004, in 1996 by a North Korean agent in China who proposed Bang and the two colleagues bring the raw materials and equipment to North Korea to produce meth.
They allegedly traveled to North Korea several times with the aid of North Korean agents and made 70 kilograms of meth there.
“It is the first time North Korean agents were found to have been involved in the production of methamphetamine, although there have been rumors North Korea tried to get foreign currency by selling meth,” the prosecutor said, asking for anonymity.
Bang and his colleagues were given 35 kilograms of meth by the North, prosecutors said, but added they have not yet found evidence the meth was distributed in South Korea. [Yonhap]
The prosecution believes the men transported “the raw materials and manufacturing equipment required for producing methamphetamine to North Korea via China in July 2000,” including “a cooling system and other goods.” There’s no way three South Koreans could have ferried this kind of gear into North Korea, much less been present at a meth factory there, without the knowledge and consent of the North Korean government. Indeed, the indictment suggests that North Korean agents were directly involved in the entire conspiracy, from beginning to end, and had the financial backing of the state.
That stands in contrast to the November 2013 indictment of a sordid group of bikers and killers for conspiring to import highly pure North Korean meth into New York. That indictment did not directly link the transaction to the North Korean government, but was arguably consistent with Sheena Chestnut Greitens’ conclusion that North Korea had opted to privatize and tax its drug manufacturing business, and outsource the transportation. The activities alleged in the indictment of “Bang,” “Kim,” and “Hwang” spanned a time period between 1998 and 2010, and may call for a reconsideration of that conclusion.
Now, let’s turn to the plot to kill Hwang Jang-Yop. Reports quoting the indictment claim that “Bang” collaborated with North Korean agents who were plotting to assassinate Hwang. The dope-dealers worked with North Korean agents on the plot for about a year, which seems like a leisurely pace for whacking a guy who’s already 86.
Seoul prosecutors said the 62-year-old South Korean initially came into contact with a North Korean spy in September 2009 in Beijing and continued to meet that agent on 10 more occasions to discuss the homicide plan. [….]
To prepare for the assassination, the 62-year-old is suspected to have handed over photographs he or she took of Hwang’s residence in Gangnam District, southern Seoul, to the North Korean spy. The person is also thought to have tried to hire criminal gang members for the actual murder. [Joongang Ilbo]
Hwang died in 2010, at age 87. Of natural causes, so they say.
In case you’re keeping count, this would be either the second or the third plot to kill Hwang that has been reported in the press, depending on whether the name of the North Korean agent “Bang,” “Kim,” and “Hwang” worked with was Ri Dong Sam.
As I noted in “Arsenal of Terror,” in June of 2010, Major Kim Myong-Ho and Major Dong Myong-Gwan of the Reconnaissance General Bureau pled guilty to a plot to assassinate Hwang Jang-Yop in a South Korean court, which sentenced each defendant to ten years in prison. The defendants told prosecutors that Lt. Gen. Kim Yong-Chol, the head of the RGB, personally assigned them to the assassination mission in November of 2009.
KBS adds the very interesting detail that defendant “Hwang” “allegedly received an order from North Korean agents in 2004 in China to assassinate a German human rights activist.” I can’t imagine who else that could possibly be but Norbert Vollertsen, who was then at the peak of his prominence.
In “Arsenal of Terror,” I examined the legal definitions of “support” and “international terrorism,” along with the history of what acts the State Department had previously cited as support for international terrorism. I found that attempts to assassinate defectors, dissidents, and activists abroad fit the legal standard. If the North Koreans plotted to kill Vollertsen, it would be the first case I’m aware of in which they targeted a third-country human rights activist for assassination.
President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. The Obama Administration’s official view is that North Korea is “not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since the bombing of a Korean Airlines flight in 1987.” Discuss among yourselves.
The three defendants also engaged in some other forms of peace activism as well:
The three are also suspected of handing over military information from 2009 to 2013 to the North’s agents. 62-year-old Kim allegedly provided information on where gas storage tanks and combined heat and power plants are located and gave a North Korean agent a 2013 arms almanac from the South. Another member, Hwang, was revealed to have traveled in and out of North Korea via China in 2004 in order to kill a German human rights activist. [Daily NK]
According to The Daily NK, the charges include “manufacturing and trading narcotics” and violations of the National Security Law. It’s a reminder that while the National Security Law is certainly overbroad when used to punish non-violent speech, it also has other, more necessary provisions to punish espionage and violent crimes. Full repeal and the status quo are both the wrong answer. The law should be amended.