All About Those Lawsuits Against North Korea

Yes, you too can now read the complaints against North Korea filed in U.S. federal district courts — all four of them. At this new page, I’ve posted a summary and the status of each case, downloaded and posted the key court documents, and even linked to the statutes that strip North Korea of its sovereign immunity.

Hours for fun for North Korea watchers and plaintiffs’ lawyers.

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The Indictments Are Coming! The Indictments Are Coming!

il-76-at-don-muang.jpgWhy do I blog? Because of stories like this:

U.S. authorities plan to indict a New Zealand company allegedly involved in selling North Korean arms to Iran, sources linked to the investigation say. They are trying to track down shadowy figures using a labyrinth of thousands of Auckland companies registered to an office on Queen Street, Auckland’s main street. [Sydney Morning Herald]

The significance of indicting the company is that the feds will probably tack on some criminal forfeiture counts, which means that some of Iran’s money will end up taking a tiny dent in our hopelessly colossal sea of debt instead of putting kobe beef on Kim Jong Il’s table. Oh goody. Consulting Plan B, I see the Justice Department has selected Option Number 2. Expect the indictment to allege violations of 18 U.S.C. sec. 1956 and/or 1957, our supple-yet-graceful money laundering statutes, with their nubile extraterritorial jurisdiction, and their warm, yielding criminal forfeiture provisions.

International organisations fear New Zealand’s casual company registration system makes laundering money and financing terrorism easy. Most of the companies in question were set up by the Vanuatu-based GT Group, controlled by the New Zealand accountant Geoffrey Taylor and sons, Ian and Michael. None have obvious purpose, and none of their directors can be traced. It is not suggested that the Taylors had any knowledge of the subsequent operations of the companies they set up.

“Indictments are coming and they will be big,” a source said.

Call a doctor. I’m getting priapism again.

There’s more on the companies involved in those transactions here, and not surprisingly, there may also be a Chinese link.

New Zealand’s Serious Fraud Office, police and Reserve Bank are also investigating but, in an embarrassment to the country’s authorities, the US Justice Department is preparing indictments a week before the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, visits New Zealand.

And we now have our first semi-official confirmation that the cargo was headed just where I’d said it was — Iran, according to “sources” the SMH quotes. The bigger question, of course, is who the Iranians would have transferred those toys to from there, especially the man-portable anti-aircraft missiles said to be aboard.

Sources say international inquiries suggest SP was set up as a “one-time use” company solely to charter the plane; that Iran used SP to pay North Korea; and that SP’s New Zealand address allowed it to use a prominent US bank, unaware of the true purpose, to launder the money to the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.

GT Group will only say SP was set up “at the request of one of our professional clients based in the United Kingdom”. Sources say the client is the target of US interest. If the Taylors do not reveal the identity of the people they sold SP’s registration to, they are liable to indictment. A US Justice Department spokesman in Manhattan yesterday would not confirm the department’s interest, other than to say it was aware of the issue and a statement would be made later.

I can hardly wait. Readers will recall that according to David Asher, Justice had prepared an indictment of North Korea years ago for the supernote conspiracy, only to see the State Department step in at the last minute and kill the indictment. I don’t doubt that the indictment is still sitting in someone’s hard drive, in a long-expired version of Word Perfect. The rest, of course, is history: we signed Agreed Framework II, President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, North Korea disarmed, sheaves of grain sprouted from the blighted earth, and there was much singing of kumbaya, followed by the disciplined shaking of plastic flowers.

Oh, right. I guess I dreamed that part.

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Another Lawsuit Against North Korea in a U.S. Court

Previously, I’ve posted about the lawsuit in a U.S. federal court by the crew of the U.S.S. Pueblo — heroes in my book, who resisted and humiliated their captors despite unendurable torture — and about the efforts of the plaintiffs’ lawyers to find and recover North Korean assets to satisfy the judgment. The plaintiffs took advantage of a 2001 amendment to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (see subsection (a)(7)) that allows the victims of “torture, extrajudicial killing, aircraft sabotage, hostage taking, or the provision of material support or resources” for terrorism to sue the states responsible for those acts.

There are important qualifications to the exception — the act must have been committed by an official of the state acting within the scope of official duty, and the state must have been either designated as a state sponsor of terrorism at the time of the act, or subsequently designated as such because of that act. The list was first inaugurated with the passage of the Export Administration Act of 1979; however, according to this Congressional Research Service Report,

The U.S. State Department had cited North Korea’s harboring of Japanese Red Army terrorists as a reason for North Korea’s inclusion on the U.S. list of terrorism supporting states. A State Department official stated on April 25, 2000, that the United States considers “resolving this issue as an important step in addressing [U.S.] concerns about North Korean support of terrorism. [Page 4]

Enter the families of those killed in a 1972 terrorist attack at Lod Airport, Israel, a joint operation by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the North Korean-sponsored Japanese Red Army. They have sued the North Korean government for its role in sponsoring and financing the attack, which killed 26 people, most of them Catholic pilgrims from Puerto Rico. The families’ organization calls itself Shurat HaDin:

“North Korea was behind the attack,” Shurat HaDin said. “As the trial will show incontrovertibly, in the months leading up to the massacre the leaders of the JRA and PFLP met each other and with North Korean officials, who provided funding, intelligence, training, and other material support for the terrorists.”

The trial was scheduled to begin on Dec. 3 in the U.S. federal district court in San Juan. The plaintiffs have argued that North Korea supported JRA’s plan to target Israel as part of its campaign to promote communist revolution. [World Tribune]

The plaintiffs filed in the District of Puerto Rico, which falls within the appellate jurisdiction of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, should things get that far. They probably won’t. When the Pueblo plaintiffs sued in the District of the District of Columbia, the North Koreans didn’t contest the suit and lost $65 million by default judgment, more than twice what the North Koreans had won (through an out-of-court settlement) in their litigation against Allianz and Lloyds of London over suspicious insurance claims in British courts.

As always, the real issue will be where to collect the funds. Generally speaking, however, South Korea recognizes and enforces U.S. court judgments, and we all know that plenty of money flows back to North Korea to pay tribute to Kim Jong Il wages for workers at the Kaesong Industrial Complex. As of September 2006, Kaesong’s banking arrangements were with the Woori Bank, via an account held by the Kaesong Industrial District Management Committee (KIDMC). Under the contractual arrangements by which KIDMC was established, it is actually considered a North Korean entity. Thus, KIDMC’s bank accounts — filled by South Korean investors and drained by the government of North Korea — would seem to be fair game for satisfaction of judgments of this kind. Incidentally, Woori Bank also has branches in the United States, meaning that the attachment of correspondent U.S. accounts could be an easier alternative than seeking to enforce the judgments in Korean courts.

The Examiner article linked above, by the way, incorrectly states that North Korea is listed as a state sponsor of terrorism. In fact, President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008 to reward North Korea for its splendid progress at dismantling its nuclear arsenal.

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Wanted: North Korean Assets

William Thomas Massie’s nightmares almost always begin in a dusty prison cell. His arms are lashed behind his back, and North Korean guards are karate-chopping his neck, kicking his groin and ankles, and smashing his face with fists and rifle butts.

The frigid room is illuminated only by tannin-tinted light trickling through newspaper-covered windows. The guards are screaming. One thrusts an assault rifle into Massie’s mouth. The soldier’s finger is on the trigger. Sweat stings Massie’s eyes. He is terrified.

When he wakes up, his body aches. Sometimes he sobs.

Those nightmares have pursued Massie for decades, vivid flashbacks of his “11 months of hell” in a brutal North Korean prison after he and 81 other members of the USS Pueblo were captured in 1968. Ever since, Massie and many of the other men have struggled with torture’s legacy. [Washington Post]

I’ll let you read the rest on your own — every sickening, infuriating word of what these guys went through.

Yet nearly thirty years after the end of their captivity, Massie and others sought and won a judgment of more than $60 million against the North Korean government, taking advantage of an exception in the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. Massie’s laywer and I have been in contact after Massie found this site on the web. I’ve passed along a few suggestions about where they might find North Korean assets to attach and seize to satisfy the judgment.

No doubt, these men who have suffered so much would appreciate other suggestions, to include the names of companies that are doing business with and paying money to North Korea, where those companies keep their assets, and how those assets are transferred to North Korea. Unless you’re going to link to something that’s open source and reliable, I’ll probably edit your link. If you want to drop me a tip off-line, please e-mail me at onefreekorea[at]yahoo[dot]com.

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Pyongyang Soju Story Takes a Strange Twist

There’s more news about Steve Park, a/k/a Park Il Woo, the importer of the foul-tasting  Pyongyang Soju, who was charged with acting as an unregistered agent for South Korea by giving its agents off-line intel about his business trips to Nouth Korea.

Park has since pled guilty to lying to FBI agents.  When FBI agents asked Park whether he’d had any contact with South Korean officials Park not only denied it, but denied that he’d had any contact within the last 20 years. The FBI agents then showed Park a picture of a South Korean agent, whom I infer the FBI had seen with Park. Park denied contact with that person, too. And naturally, he then offered himself up as a volunteer ambassador to North Korea. He has since been sentenced, but the terms are bizarre:

Despite the serious nature of the charges, Park, 59, has received substantial lenity — something that is often in short supply in federal courthouses — from both the judge and the prosecutors on the case. The judge, William Pauley III of U.S. District Court in Manhattan, gave him 18 months’ probation even though the crime he pleaded guilty to carried a sentence of up to five years in prison. After the guilty plea, prosecutors for the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office also agreed to lift a prohibition that had barred him from contacting South Korean officials for whom he was accused of spying. [N.Y. Sun, Joseph Goldstein]

WTF? Someone remind me again why the FBI investigated this guy in the first place. Wait — it gets better:

Most recently, a prosecutor from the office, Jennifer Rodgers, gave her permission to allow Park to travel to North Korea “on business” for two weeks beginning May 30, according to court papers filed by Park’s attorney. Judge Pauley gave final approval for the trip without asking for any additional details, noting that his approval was “on consent of the Government.” The trip is an unusual accommodation for a felon on probation.

It would seem, to say the least, that this case did not turn out they way the prosecutors wanted it to.  There are some interesting questions the article doesn’t answer, such as what kind of information, exactly, Park was funneling to the South Koreans, and what happened to the South Korean officials who presumably were acting contrary to their diplomatic status here. 

So why did this happen? I can think of  several possibilities here, all them rooted exclusively in my own speculation. The first is that the entire investigation was  an effort to get Park on some other suspected offense, an effort that simply fell apart as prosecutions sometimes do.  Or, the effort  succeeded in some other way:  sometimes, investigators and prosecutors will try to use a smaller charge as leverage to secure a suspect’s confession to something more serious, or to get him to turn and help prosecutors catch a bigger fish.  Another possibility is that our State Department didn’t want the prosecution to go forward.

It’s anyone’s guess how Park’s criminal conviction will affect his business and his visa status, but he appears to have skated.  One thing Park has going for him over Robert Kim is that at least he’s a Korean citizen; the question of loyalty is one the North and South Koreans can sort out themselves.  Park seems to have a prosaic outlook on legal technicalities and national loyalties.  It may not have occurred to Steve Park, but it occurs to me is  that the North Koreans  may not approve of their  sales agent feeding information to the South Koreans.  We’ll have a better idea if Park returns from  Pyongyang.  If the North Koreans  don’t find any of this to be suspicious, we ought to wonder  why.

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Liberation Through Litigation, Part 2

Way back in the very early days of this blog, I proposed that North Korean workers should be able to sue their government for coercive and abusive labor practices under the Alien Tort Statute of 1789.  In fact, the statute was recently used with success against Unocal Corporation for its use of forced labor in a pipeline project in Burma.  Just watch Kaesong empty out if that ever comes to pass.

I had mentioned the idea once or twice since then and had considered the concept a sound one, though it never really seemed to get any traction.  So imagine my surprise to see that a big D.C. law firm, offering its time to the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea pro bono, has recently  proposed the same idea

The tricky part is that the statute only allows liability against U.S. entities — which would probably include U.S. subsidiaries of foreign companies — and only allows recovery for violations of “the law of nations.”  Piracy was traditionally such a violation.  Would slavery be one, too?   My advice would be to  try the Ninth Circuit first.

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Beyond the Drum Circle: Stopping Genocide in the Real World

There is within us some hidden power, mysterious and secret, which keeps us going, keeps us alive, despite the natural law. If we cannot live on what is permitted, we live on what is forbidden. That is no disgrace for us. What is permitted is no more than an agreement, and what is forbidden derives from the same agreement. If we do not accept the agreement, it is not binding on us. And particularly where this forbidden and permitted comes from a barbarous conqueror, who limits life to one made in his image, his murderous and larcenous views. 

from the Warsaw Ghetto  diary of Chaim Kaplan  

Because this is a blog about North Korea, I  expend many words here on the subject of  genocide:  what the word means and  who defined it, what can be done to stop it, who is trying, who has done and  is doing nearly nothing about it, who is perpetuating it, and who is joining in  it.   

The most consistently astonishing thing about genocide in our time is  how little those who  write and speak movingly about the genocides of the past often  seem to  say and do about genocides that can still be stoppedJules Crittenden inspires me to think more about this today, when he  looks at  the popularization of  feel-good responses to genocide. 

These feel-good responses have several common points.   First, all are the stuff of  drum circles  —  concerts,  solemn words, and toothless sanctions, all apparently based on the presumption that the Janjaweed are gravely concerned about George Clooney’s disapproval.  Second, they cease to be feel-good and are abandoned when any cost is attached to them.  Third, the sanctimony almost always comes too late to save anyone.  I can think of no better example than Kofi Annan’s apology for a genocide  in Rwanda that he could have  prevented, but didn’t, even as he continued to fail to take effective action  against genocides in Darfur and North Korea, and just as the depth of Saddam Hussein’s corruption of Annan’s U.N. was revealed.  You wouldn’t think that the phrase “never again” was  meant to be  posthumous, but  it  became the  epitaph of  the last century.  So far, this one doesn’t seem to be going any differently.   A thousand mass graves could have been marked with “never again” before they were filled.


[Jewish resistance fighter, Warsaw Ghetto, 1943]

I’ll add a fourth common point about the feel-gooders:  their condemnation  of genocide is  seldom directed at oppressors who successfully cast themselves as enemies of America.  Hating America  has become  a license to commit genocide, because when a tyrant acts as ventriloquist for  his nation’s hatred of America,  it must be  our fault for failing  to “understand” and “engage” with the murderers.   That may be why you will seldom hear any Hollywood actor, liberal politician, or anchorman breathe the words, “Camp 22.”  If you’re new to this site, you’ve probably never heard of the place, although in its cruelty and scale it’s easily comparable to Tuol Sleng or Mauthausen.  Fifty years from now, schoolchildren will  make solemn visits to memorials at Camp 22, and  grad students will write theses about it.  Yet  today, while Camp 22’s next victims can still be saved, it’s another unpleasant topic we choose not to bring up for the sake of a diplomatic dance  whose end result is mournfully predictable.   The angst of those who should be talking about Camp 22 is wasted instead on places that aren’t remotely comparable to Tuol Sleng or Mauthausen, though  too many  would  squander their credibility and betray their true motives  by suggesting otherwise.

It’s also why you’ll never hear feel-good featherweights  like George Clooney, Barack Obama,  or Nancy Pelosi advocate any remotely plausible  plan to prevent an undeniably likely genocide in Iraq.  There is no feel-good, cost-free, plausible way to prevent that genocide or the other wars that will emerge from it, which  puts the question beyond their competence and compassion.  What they don’t realize is that it’s just as true of Darfur.  We’ve been talking about Darfur for years now, and no nation or international body has yet taken  a single  effective step to stop the genocide there.  This isn’t because we don’t know how.  It’s because the  things we could do to deter and mitigate this genocide quickly wouldn’t make enough of us feel good about ourselves.  Yes, recruiting public support is often  a prequisite to effective action, but  if feel-good activism isn’t leading us  toward effective action,  it’s  an exceedingly selfish  form of compassion.

What would  quickly slow and eventually stop  the Genocide in Darfur would be to  arm the  surviving victims so that they can defend themselves and their families.  What all of the great genocides of this century have in common is that the victims were unarmed.  With the exception of international armed conflicts between mechanized armies, war is almost always less costly in human life than genocide, and once the forces on the field reach stalemate,  wars  are also  easier to negotiate to a conclusion.  Genocidal tyrants don’t negotiate when they’re getting their way through other means.


[Jewish partisans in a Polish forest, 1943]

Today, the law gives  the President the authority to declare groups “terrorist,” and certain states to be “sponsors” of terrorism.  Those declarations have legally significant effects on things that really affect the capacity of groups and states to terrorize:  trade, banking, finance, technology transfers, diplomacy, immigration, and travel.  Similarly, there should be a law by which Congress can make a legally significant declaration of “genocide” and certify classes of aggressors and victims.   The class of aggressors should be denied the same benefits that are denied to terrorists, but we have learned that sanctions work too slowly to save lives in the short term.  They may even encourage aggressors to speed up work that they doubt they can sustain over the long term. 

That’s why the certification of classes of victims  is also necessary (needless to  say, terrorist groups and their supporters  must be  excluded).   Victims of genocide should have access to small arms at low or no cost, and  should receive  training in their use.  The small arms — assault rifles, antiaircraft guns up to 23 milimeters,  and antitank rockets as needed — should be just enough to drive the aggressors from the victims’ midst and restore the military balance.   The law should include a termination provision by which the President  may  declare the military balance restored and reduce the supply of arms and ammunition to a maintenance level.  If and when a peace agreement is executed, or in the exceedingly  unlikely event that there is some effective international intervention,  the President may declare the genocide conditions to be over and stop the supply of arms. 

This isn’t a recipe for nonviolence, of course.  A transition from genocide to nonviolence is almost never possible.  It is not a way to end bloodshed and suffering, but it is a way to greatly reduce it, and to reduce  the share of the burden borne by noncombatants.  If there is any right more fundamental than the right to self-defense against crime, I do not know what it is.  It is a right we have reserved to our own selves, it is enshrined in Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, and it has nothing to do with the criminal’s status in the General Assembly:

[T]hey are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. –That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. 

Finally, it should be noted that many genocides have a regional, religious,  or ethnic character.  Genocides are almost always waged by states against  restive ethnic or  religious groups concentrated in specific regions.  (North Korea is a more complex case of  mass murder-by-deprivation.   A disproportionately high percentage  of the victims are  members of  hereditary political classes classified as “hostile” and concentrated  in the northern and eastern  provinces.)   Thus, the law should recognize that states have a duty to protect their populations  and  elevate this principle to a concrete disincentive  against genocide.  Clearly, when a state sanctions or  commits genocide against its population, its  capacity to protect that population is called into question.  The people are best qualified to judge whether the greater state  should continue  to govern them. 

Thus, when a state commits genocide against people concentrated in a particular region — Bosnia, Kosovo, Darfur, East Timor, the Ukraine — it should be the policy of the United States that the  affected region has the right to a plebiscite of independence.   

Update:   Welcome, Gateway Pundit and DPRKS readers.

Update 2:   Linked by Claudia Rosett — a supreme honor.

See also:

*  Not new, but relevant to this post, is  this chronology of resistance against the North Korean regime. 

* Most Suggestive Headline of the Week goes to the Russian news service  Novosti:  China Gives the Korean Stalemate a Happy Ending.

*  Fox News is reporting that  President Bush and President Karzai are meeting at Camp David, and that the unconfirmed rumors (or trial balloon)  is that they’re talking about paying ransom for the South Korean hostages.

*  Two senior al-Qaeda commanders are killed in three days, both in  key areas  where they thought they’d find safe haven from our Baqubah offensive.  First, it was  the “emir” of Mosul on Friday; today, it’s the “emir” of Samarra, the architect of the mosque bombing last year that caused us such trouble.  They will be replaced, but as Michael Yon puts it, the stupid ones are already dead.  These were two of AQ’s more cunning murderers, and their replacements will likely be less clever, less experienced, and less effective.  It’s by small steps like these that fewer  decisions are made to pay the insurgents or join them, and  that more decisions are made to report their whereabouts or oppose them.

*   Not Ready, Part III:   The latest Obama blunder is pretty much self-fisking:

“I think it would be a profound mistake for us to use nuclear weapons in any circumstance,” Obama said, with a pause, “involving civilians.” Then he quickly added, “Let me scratch that. There’s been no discussion of nuclear weapons. That’s not on the table.”

Just what we need — a jittery finger on the button.

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‘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.








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Soju for You = Hennessey for You-Know-Who


[Update:   I’ve made indirect contact with a North Korean defector familiar with how Pyongyang Soju is made.  Based on that information, the product is not manufactured in a forced labor camp.  I  hope to  have more specific information about the materials and labor practices later.]  

The Chicago Tribune and the  Hankook Ilbo are both reporting that North Korea is about to export of shipment of soju to the United States.

US-North Korean trade is rare as Washington imposes sanctions on Pyongyang, which it lists as a state sponsor of terror. Imports need approval from the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.  But Steve Park, 59, the Korean-American importer, told Hankook he secured the office’s approval last July.  Park said a cargo ship carrying 2,520 boxes of soju, or some 60,000 bottles, left the North’s western port of Nampo for the United States on April 9.

“If the customs procedures go as scheduled, the soju will be sold at US stores, marketplaces and restaurants as early as late this month or early next month,” Park was quoted as saying.  [AFP]

Let’s hope customs procedures don’t go smoothy, and there could be a few more hurdles to stagger past:

Alcohol importation into the U.S. needs authorization from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. Because North Korea is subject to U.S. sanctions, Park Il U would also need a license from the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

North Korea is among the countries subject to the U.S. Trading With the Enemy Act. Washington agreed in February to begin discussions with North Korea on removing it from the list, one of a series of economic and political concessions offered in exchange for the North’s promise in an international agreement to start dismantling its nuclear program.  [Chicago Tribune]

Leave aside for a moment such questions as  how Kim Jong Il will spend your money, or what all  those  upstream factories are dumping into the  Taedong (or, as Richardson notes, that the stuff tastes putrid).  When it comes to North Korea, I posit that all labor is slave labor to one degree or another, and the odds that Mr. Park’s soju is made by laborers who can choose their jobs or negotiate their wages  are next to nil.  Park says his soju is made somewhere in Pyongyang; this article  claims to show a picture of inside of the bottling plant.  That may answer one of your questions, but if you’re inherently skeptical about what the North Korean government says, then wonder  with me just  how sure can we be that  Mr. Park‘s soju isn’t distilled, say,  here: 


Google Earth gives us a closer view of Camp 18’s distillery:


As North Korean gulags go, Camp 18 is one of the less  horrid places to find yourself enslaved.  It’s run by a slightly less sadistic secret police organization, the Peoples’  Safety Agency  (North Korea has a proliferation of them, and they’re all in competition with each other).  Just across the river, at Camp 14, the usual guard force, the National Security Agency, is in charge, and conditions are far more brutal. 


Still, Camp 18 does have its very own public execution site:


Typically, the political criminal is sent to Camp 14, but in his infinite mercy, Kim Jong Il sends his family to Camp 18, just across the Taedong.  That means that at this spot, just 3 1/2 miles upstream from the distillery,  a  husband might even be able to stand on one side of the Taedong River and watch his wife’s  execution on the other side.

Of course, I have no way of knowing where Mr. Park’s soju is really made,  and my point here is that neither do we, and neither does Mr. Park.  I rather doubt he cares.  I did call up the importer to ask for his side of the story, but he didn’t return my call.  Nor do I think he particularly cares how Kim Jong Il spends the profits of this commerce.  His merchandise probably  dulls the mind somewhat  less than self-serving pap like this:

“The North Korean government shows a positive response to this business in that its product is to be exported to the US, which has long been considered as a hostile country, through legal procedures,” he said.

“I think this will serve as a good opportunity to improve relations between the two countries in the future.”

Huzzah for  Mr. Park if he sleeps soundly at night.  If his soju sales take off, he has other products to add to his line.  For example, according to survivor Kang Chol Hwan, at Camp 15, a/k/a Yodok,  there was “a distillery for corn, acorn, and snake brandy.”  Former guard Ahn Myung Chol reported that at the worst of the Camps, the infamous Camp 22, there was a “distillery that produced soy sauce and whiskeys.”  And if Pyongyang  soju really is made in Pyongyang, we’re still talking about labor conditions that are highly suspect.  The State Department lists North Korea as a Tier 3 country for human trafficking concern.  That’s the worst classification  that can be  assigned, shared by only 11 other countries  “whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.”   Here’s a section from State’s 2006 human trafficking report on North Korea:

The Government of North Korea does not fully comply with minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. The government does not acknowledge that trafficking is occurring, either within the country or transnationally. The government also contributes to the problem through forced labor prison camps, where thousands of North Koreans live in slave-like conditions, receiving very little food and no medical assistance…. The D.R.P.K. regime reportedly provides workers for foreign investors operating in North Korean industrial parks. There are concerns that this labor may be exploitative, with the D.P.R.K. government keeping most or all of the foreign exchange paid and then paying workers in local, nonconvertible currency.

A Tier  3 designation supposedly means that  “it is the policy of the United States” not to provide that country aid, but  tell that to Chris Hill.  And since the State Department is in charge of this regulatory scheme, it’s also meaningless for keeping  out products made with forced labor, which  the Tariff Act defines this way:

… all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty for its nonperformance and for which the worker does not offer himself voluntarily. For purposes of this section, the term “˜’forced labor or/and indentured labor” includes forced or indentured child labor.

If we know that a product is made with forced labor, as  we have reason to suspect in the  case of Kaesong, it can’t  legally be landed in a U.S. port.  But what if we only have reason to suspect, and we have no way of verifying the actual facts?  In such a case, even a Tier 3 classification has  few real  consequences for a country’s ability to export goods to the United States unless.  There is a Labor Department black list, but it does not include  a direct ban on the import of suspect goods.  And good luck  with arranging that plant visit to Pyongyang, much less Camp 18, whose existence the regime denies  entirely.  If you think it will do any good, here’s how you can write a letter to the Bureau of International Labor Affairs to nominate a particular product for that list. 

Later today, I’ll be filing a request to the Office of Foreign Asset Control under the Freedom of Information Act.  I’ll be seeking a copy of  Mr. Park’s  license request,  certain policies used to evaluate  the request, and the license itself (along with other OFAC licenses for North Korea).  I’m going to be looking for any information about where  Mr. Park’s merchandise is made and what assurances he can make regarding the labor conditions there. 

If you’re a journalist and want the first look at this information, please e-mail me, because journalists get expedited FOIA treatment.  I’ll write the request and help you analyze it, and you get a chance to report it first.  A win-win?

The FOIA request  will probably take months to bear fruit, and if it does, it may show us few of the facts we really need, so I need your help.  If you know anyone who has escaped from North Korea, please ask them what they know about how and  where  Pyongyang Soju is made, and then please drop me a line at the e-mail address in the third right-hand sidebar.  If  anyone can provide a statement containing specific information that Pyongyang Soju is made with forced labor, we can use the procedures of 19 C.F.R. sec. 12.42 to block its importation into the United States.

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One Man’s Freedom Fighter…

“Congratulations! You are in a cage, Saddam,” witness Ghafour Hassan Abdullah said as he stared at the ousted president.

Saddam listened silently but lost his temper when a lawyer described Iraqi Kurdish rebels as freedom fighters. “You are agents of Iran and Zionism! We will crush your heads!” he shouted.

We will crush your heads! Remind you of anyone? Incidentally, none of my trials featured exchanges like that.

Meanwhile, Havana, Cuba is hosting a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, the world’s second-most inaptly named entity, just below the “Democratic Peoples’ Republic” of Korea. Both entities are asking to redefine a term on which they speak with some authority, but not the moral kind:

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Tongsun Park has been convicted in his Oil for Food trial, for acting as an unregistered agent for Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. History will note this as just one more time the U.N. abetted a dictator’s self-aggrandizement at the expense of his suffering subjects. A hat tip to Claudia Rosett herself for sending.

And in a delicious coincidence, South Korea picked today to formally nominate Ban Ki Moon to be the next U.N. General Secretary. This story says not one peep about Ban’s preeminent role in South Korea’s coverup of mass starvation and murder in the North. Ban is morally unfit to give my toilet plunger a tongue bath. His ascendancy would be cause to write the U.N. off entirely.

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Tongsun Park Trial Update

Today, Claudia Rosett reports from the courtroom that Park was picking up the tab for Maurice Strong’s private New York office. And that matters, why?

Strong, for example, served in a public capacity in 1996 as a top adviser to former U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, then from 1997-2005 as a special adviser to Secretary-General Kofi Annan. With the rank of under-secretary-general, Strong orchestrated Annan’s 1997 reorganization of the U.N. Secretariat, stayed on as a top adviser, and from 2003-2005 became Annan’s personal envoy to the nuclear hotspot of the Korean peninsula. Thanks not to any routine U.N. disclosure, but to an extraordinary mix of investigations, admissions, and sworn testimony accompanying the Oil-for-Food scandal, we have only over the past year or so begun hearing , that while Strong wore these high U.N. hats, from 1996-2005, Strong and Park were both involved in lobbying efforts to sell Canadian nuclear reactors to the Korean peninsula; were both involved in a million-dollar oil-company deal; and that Park advised Strong on issues relating to Strong’s role as Annan’s envoy to North Korea.

What’s odd about this is that a guy as loaded as Strong would even need the money.

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Now What?

North Korea’s missile test opens up new options for the United States. Here is a list of them.

[Scroll down for updates.] It too easy to say, as many will in the coming days, that there is little that the United States and other nations can do to North Korea diplomatically or economically now that it has done the unthinkably stupid and launched its (taepo)dong and (count ’em!) five smaller missiles [Update: make that six]. Let me express my respectful disagreement with some of the analysts cited by my colleague Richardson below, and let me follow that with a list of specifics.

True, the United States doesn’t have ambassadors in Pyongyang to recall, and there are no direct flights to suspend. Not that either measure is more than cosmetic in any event. There is much, much more that the United States and other nations could do in response to North Korea’s missile test, both unilaterally and multilaterally. That may explain what Stephen Hadley is up to:

The administration quickly launched a diplomatic counter offensive to the missile shots — including one missile capable of reaching the Unites States, but made clear the response will be diplomatic and not military.

“You are going to see a lot of diplomatic activity here in the next 24-48 hours,” said … Hadley.

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Tongsun Park’s Trial Begins

Park formerly served as a “Special Advisor” to Maurice Strong, a wealthy, uber-connected Canadian leftist who in turn was Kofi Annan’s Special Envoy to North Korea. Strong and Park have now both been implicated in the U.N. Oil-for-Food scandal. During his tenure, Strong was notable for a deathly silence on human rights. He resigned after the OFF allegations emerged.

Today, Park is charged with being an unregistered Iraqi agent, in violation of the Foreign Agents’ Registration Act. Writing in the National Review Online, Claudia Rosett reports from Park’s trial, in New York:

The defendant, South Korean businessman Tongsun Park, is charged in the Southern District of New York with acting as an unregistered agent of Saddam’s Iraq — which tried through various means, especially the manipulation of the 1996-2003 Oil-for-Food program, to end the U.N. sanctions imposed after Saddam’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Park’s lawyer, Michael Kim, says the 71-year-old Park is “absolutely not guilty.


Alleging that “Cash by the bagful was sent from Iraq to the United States and doled out here by an Iraqi agent to Tongsun Park,” Farbiarz outlined a tale of secret swaps of messages and money in New York cafes and restaurants; night-time meetings at the Sutton Place official residence of former Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali; a close encounter with longtime U.N. eminence Maurice Strong, who served as a top adviser to both Boutros-Ghali and then to Kofi Annan; and an episode in which Park in 1997 picked up cash from Saddam’s number two man in Iraq, Tariq Aziz, and “drove out of the Iraqi desert over the Jordanian border. (Boutros-Ghali, Strong, and Annan have all denied any wrong-doing in relation to Oil-for-Food.)

Park has a long history with allegations of corruption dating back to the 1970’s “Koreagate” scandal. Click here for some of the extensive posting I’ve done on the subject.

And get this: Park even has a web site, which focuses heavily on Korean nationalism, a la Robert Kim, but which seems to be all in English. Go figure. The site, wisely I’d say, says nothing about the charges, and contains no information that might connect Park to the government of North Korea, his birthplace.

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The Congo Question, The Heart of Darkness, and Accountability

The enforcement of standards of civilized behavior is what distinguishes us from our enemies, and today, we must again make that distinction plain. The Army has charged two soldiers and an NCO with murder in Iraq, based on an alleged incident that took place just last month. A three-star general ordered the investigation after following up reports about it. We eagerly await a John Murtha coverup allegation.

The case will now proceed to an Article 32 investigation, a cross between a preliminary hearing and a grand jury. The Article 32 is very possibly the greatest truth engine in any legal system, anywhere. Attorneys for the government and the defense (appointed military counsel; civilian counsel at no cost to the government) will have extensive rights to question witnesses and examine documents. One officer will examine all of the evidence produced and make recommendations on whether the case merits trial, and at what level. The recommendation is not binding. The various court-martial convening authorities — the highest of whom is generally a two- or three-star, will decide whether probable cause exists to believe that each accused committed a triable offense. As a practical matter, however, if the investigating officer finds probable cause, there will be a trial.

Patience is not a virtue of the American media, but I’ve had some of experience with both fora, and thus have far more confidence that the military courts will develop an accurate account of the events in question than the New York Times will. It’s entirely possible, after all, that these soldiers are not guilty, and while it’s now commonplace for us to forget that, no one deserves the benefit of all reasonable doubts more than those who protect our own freedom. If these turn out to have been soldiers who forgot who they were, the bidding ought to start at double-digit, hard-time confinement. The same would be just as true of accountability by senior officers and NCO’s, something that has finally begun to happen with Abu Ghraib. How ironic that for all of the attention lavished on Abu Ghraib, the world has forgotten most of the horrors that happened there. This is how the abandonment of perspective tends to work, and will probably work here.

If any reminder is needed that we ought to wait for the legal process before we judge any suspect, whether in this case or that of Haditha, Michael Yon has expressed it from a deeper personal knowledge and with a far greater poignancy than I could ever hope. Unfortunately, the cause for which all of the soldiers are sacrificing — including those whose conduct is beyond reproach — will soon face unfavorable comparisons to unattainable standards that no Army in the field has ever met, or will ever meet. Expect venenous, hyperbolic analogies to Einsatzgruppen. The message some will want us to take from this will be that the only appropriate atonement is to abandon the field to those who see the murder of children as their very point-blank, execution-style modus operandi. That, of course, would be to incentivize rather than deter barbarity.

Unfortunately, the morality of too many is sufficiently perverse that every death in Iraq — regardless of the actor or his intent — is implicitly the fault of the United States. This view shovels guilty and innocent alike into a statistical mass grave, with the fallen soldiers of an elected government piled on top of shards of foreign terrorists, with dead diplomats, foreign workers, and innocent children akimo in heaps, and here and there, an American Marine or British soldier. This view makes no moral distinction between the terrorist who drives a car bomb into a school, the child he killed, the teacher who dies trying to shield the child, or the Iraqi soldier whose final act is to empty his magazine into the car. It takes little thought to see this communal statistical burial, this exploitation of a victim in common cause with her murderer, for the desecration that it is.

Still, such a simplistic framework has appeal — as the substitution of emotion for thought always does — because it is easy on the mind. The anticipation of consequence, the consideration of the greater moral context, the careful examination of circumstances, and the building of one’s moral framework around reason are not, as a rule, easy things. One cannot reach the “right” moral answer without considering them, however.

Among those who will have the most to say about this case, and among those who have already had the most to say about Haditha, there has been much studious evasion of some dire realities, beginning with the fact that our deadliest enemy in Iraq — if not necessarily the most numerous — calls itself “al Qaeda in Iraq” and swears allegiance to those who engineered the murder of 3,000 American civilians on a single day — right here in America. They cannot argue why a government chosen by the consent of the governed in three free elections is less meritorious of our respect and support than the violent acts of gangs of displaced cut-throats and ambitious petty warlords. They cannot say how America can survive if it consistently yields the field of battle to those who would follow us to our homes to kill our people, rob us of our freedom, and destroy our prosperity, or why this would make the world better. They cannot explain why the forebearance and understanding of Europe and the Middle East have purchased them so forebearance and understanding in return — why, for example, were 25 terrorists convicted just last week for plotting attacks in France over Russia’s war in Chechnya? They do not answer for the incalculable horrors that would follow a sudden U.S. flight from a nation that freely elected leaders who ask for the presence of U.S. forces until — and only until — the rule of law and the will of the people have a chance to triumph against bands of cutthroats in the pay of the predatory tyrannies that surround them. They evade this obvious consequence above all others: that after Iraq, there will be another battleground, and another, and that sooner or later, America will be among them. Again.

It is a statistical certainty that in every Army there are men who have committed crimes, whether in times of peace or under the stresses of war. This is not an excuse for crime; it is an imperative both for accountability and for perspective. Neither any European nation, nor the Canadian Army, nor the United Nations itself is exempt from that statistical certainty, or from the responsibility to hold those who err accountable under the law. Here, the U.N. has much to learn from the Uniform Code of Military Justice. I wonder how many of those who say that we must abandon Iraq to the heirs of Saddam and Zarkawi believe just as strongly that the U.N. must atone for its soldiers’ exploitation of some Congolese girls by abandoning all of them — and their sisters, brothers, and parents — to the tender mercies of cannibals and rapists. It is only some sense of perspective that leads to the obvious answer, despite the U.N.’s woeful job of assuring that the guilty are held accountable.

A just world does not measure the justice of nations and their causes by the actions of an abberrant few, but by how swiftly and thoroughly their actions are judged, and accountability imposed, by a system of laws that represents the many. That process is at work in the U.S. military. If only we could hope for the maintenance of that perspective as that process works toward its conclusion. That may be too much to hope for.

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Why He Took Those Pictures

The U.S. Ambassador to South Korea, Alexander Vershbow, has paid a very public visit to the Kaesong Industrial Park, and the initial signs are good. Vershbow, a man who seeks the public debate his predecessors so often avoided, has not shied from stating some rather blunt views about North Korea. Thus, the fact that the North Koreans allowed his visit to go forward at all is surprising. Best of all, Vershbow snooped around, took pictures, and even seems to have sought a peek at the books, with his thoughts on the workers’ paychecks (or absence thereof). His reaction was cyptic:

“It was useful in getting more information about Kaesong, which I will pass on to my colleagues in Washington,” the diplomat said. “There are some questions people have in their minds about Kaesong, and I hope the information that I pass back will be helpful to my colleagues in understanding better what’s happening in Kaesong.” He said there were talks underway to organize a visit by the North Korea rights envoy, Jay Lefkowitz, “probably next month.”

Here’s the money quote:

The ambassador dodged a question on his government’s support for the complex, calling it tricky, but said he had seen quite a lot of U.S.-produced equipment while looking around.

That’s a highly significant statement.

Before some of us helped put Kaesong on the map as a human rights issue, it was a technology control issue, which requires us to talk some law, specifically the U.S. Department of Commerce’s extremely detailed technology control regulations. Those regulations are intended to keep sensitive or dual-use American technology out of the hands of our enemies. They apply to both direct exports and reexports to other end users.

This excellent primer describes how each listed product has a unique five-digit alphanumeric code known as an Export Control Classification Number (ECCN). Using this ECCN, it’s possible to determine what controls apply to each listed item here, which leads you to a country chart (15 C.F.R. sec. 738) that is updated frequently, but for which North Korea’s blocks have pretty much all been checked since 2001. Those blocks consist of a series of reasons for which the export restrictions were imposed: chemical and biological weapons, nuclear nonproliferation, national security, missile technology, regional stability, crime control, anti-terrorism, or the firearms convention (notice anything missing in there?). North Korea, for more good reasons I can count (see pretty much every entry I’ve ever posted here) hits every one of these except firearms convention controls.

Would a South Korean transfer of U.S. technology to a South Korean plant that happens to be inside North Korea violate the controls? We found the answer last year, when South Korean attempted to transfer items listed in one category of sensitive technology — telecommunications equipment, which often has dual-use applications:

[T]he export administration regulations (EAR) of the U.S. stand in the way as the country restricts exports of dual-use items, which can be converted for military purposes, to embargoed destinations including North Korea. Under the policy, a license is required for virtually all exports of products using more than 10 percent of U.S. technology or components.

“To avoid the EAR, we tried to procure telecom equipment from European manufacturers like Ericsson, Alcatel and Siemens. But the hitch is that their products may cross the 10-percent threshold and for this reason they are hesitant,” Park said. He added the European big names fear unauthorized exports of telecom gears to the North might arouse the ire of the U.S., which can prevent exports of their products to the U.S.

Because the controls apply not only to direct U.S. exports to listed nations, but also to reexports to listed nations, Ambassador Vershbow’s pictures are more than a simple threat to the North Koreans’ line of credit. If South Korean companies transferred technology to North Korean in violation of end-user rules (15 C.F.R. pt. 744), the offending South Korean companies could be facing sanctions of their own. That would be yet another earthquake in U.S.-South Korean relations, already severely strained by the unraveling of the military alliance and the likely collapse of U.S.-Korea Free-Trade talks as President Bush’s fast-track authority ticks away, and opposition in both the United States and South Korea grows.

One of the main sticking points has been the U.S. refusal to treat goods produced at Kaesong as South Korean products for FTA purposes. Very few nations, after all, have FTA’s with the United States, and it makes little sense for North Korea to enjoy a privlege that stalwart ally and trading partner Japan lacks. The import controls on North Korea are at 31 C.F.R. sec. 500.586; they were recently updated with this notice in the Federal Register banning U.S.-owned vessels from flying the North Korean flag. The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control has a good summary of the import sanctions currently in effect; more here. What about assembling or finishing Kaesong-made materials in the South? We’ve thought of that. You can see pretty much all of it by typing the word “Korea” into the search window here.


There was another interesting vignette at Kaesong when Vershbow’s North Korean guide ““ almost certainly loaded with a prefabricated tirade ““ asked Amb. Vershbow about his opinion on human rights in the North. Vershbow wisely declined the guide’s opening to let fly with her canned David vs. Goliath setup before a gallery of sympathetic journalists. Watching Vershbow’s performance leaves you somewhat rueful that no one of his caliber was available to represent our interests for the last critical decade, when matters deteriorated to the woeful state at which they’d arrived when he was confirmed.

Reminder: Read our disclaimer.

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Japanese Coast Guard Searches N. Korean Drug Ship

They also arrested two people believed to have been part of the smuggling operation.

The men are accused of helping smuggle several hundred kilograms of amphetamines from North Korea to Japan, Jiji Press and public broadcaster NHK said.

Tokyo police arrested Woo Si-Yun, an unemployed 59-year-old South Korean living in Japan, and alleged Japanese gangster Katsuhiko Miyata, 58, the news organizations said.

Woo is believed to be the owner of a mobile phone recovered from a North Korean spy ship that sank in the East China Sea in 2001 after an exchange of fire with the Japan Coast Guard, Kyodo News said.

Investigators also searched a North Korean freighter that arrived Friday at western Tottori prefecture because they believe the ship was used to smuggle the drugs, NHK said.

Police are looking to arrest several others in connection with the case, Jiji said.

Photo: AFP

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Should Hanchongryon Be Designated a Terrorist Organization?

“Let us eliminate anti-unification pro-war forces which intend to cast fire clouds of a nuclear war on the heads of Koreans.
Hanchongryon Statement before visiting Pyongyang

If I’d had any idea that things were this bad on South Korean university campuses, I’d have been paying much closer attention:

Seven Korea University students face disciplinary punishment after illegally detaining nine professors for 16 hours. The Yonsei University president is working elsewhere after being driven out of his office some 40 days ago by radical students who are occupying the university administrative building. Some 50 pro-North Korea students of Joong-Ang University also occupied the president’s office and painted walls and floor with slogans.

Amazing. Like “1984” meets “Lord of the Flies.” This is the infamous North Korean fifth column known as Hanchongryon, with a long history of violence and almost always featured in our force protection warnings about violent demonstrations. More on that later. But this story ends well:

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