Delayed, But Not Denied: American Victims Sue North Korea

Until recently, I did not know that there are three pending federal lawsuits against North Korea in the U.S. federal court system, not counting the $69 million verdict won last year by the lawyers representing the surviving crew members of the U.S.S. Pueblo. After hearing that other suits might be pending, I signed up for my very own PACER account and did some searching, and sure enough. Interestingly, although these documents are all publicly available, the newspapers haven’t reported on them in much detail, and I don’t believe anyone else has published these documents.

That’s why I decided to put this page up — to follow pending civil litigation against North Korea, to track efforts to satisfy and collect judgments against its regime, and to aggregate reports of foreign investment in North Korea that may be amenable to levy and garnishment by plaintiffs. Although foreign governments are ordinarily immune from suit in U.S. courts, one recent amendment to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act strips that immunity from states for their sponsorship of terrorist acts, and another provides for a civil cause of action by victims of terrorist acts. Whatever your feelings about the subject, the intent of Congress is clear, and it seems to me a peculiar form of madness to suggest that noncombatants who are the victims of unlawful violence should not have lawful and nonviolent remedies.

So far, North Korea’s response has been to ignore the lawsuits, so the multimillion-dollar default judgments are piling up. Which leads to the interesting part of this: collecting these judgments. The obvious sources are entities with debts or obligations to North Korea and which also have financial interests in the United States. In some cases, it is also possible to seek enforcement of U.S. judgments in foreign courts, just as U.S. courts often enforce foreign judgments.

My objective in publishing these legal documents on the Web is broader than simply putting this information out there for the public’s information. It is also to aggregate news reports that may be of interest to plaintiffs with unsatisfied judgments about North Korean assets that can be found, intercepted, levied, and garnished. I do not conceal my hope that their success at holding North Korea accountable will deter potential investors and their banks from investing in North Korea.
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Kim v. Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Case No. 09-00648, The Honorable Richard W. Roberts

kim-dong-shik1.jpgThe brother and son of the Rev. Kim Dong Shik are suing North Korea for his kidnapping from China and subsequent murder. Rev. Kim was a lawful permanent resident of the United States who lived in the Chicago suburbs. In 2000, Rev. Kim was deeply moved by reports of North Koreans fleeing persecution and starvation in North Korea, only to be hunted down and repatriated by Chinese police. He traveled to northeastern China to do what he could to help the North Korean refugees there. North Korean government agents found him, kidnapped him on Chinese soil, and carried him back across the Chinese-North Korean border. (Naturally, the Chinese noticed nothing out of the ordinary when a wheelchair-bound U.S. resident with an other-than-skeletal build was taken from their territory and across their border.) Here’s a quote from the Complaint:

24. When Reverend Kim refused to adopt the Juche ideology he was punished by being deprived of all food by his jailers, who were officers, employees and agents of defendant North Korea.

25. Reverend Kim died as the result of starvation and the torture inflicted upon him during his imprisonment by officers, employees and agents of defendant North Korea.

26. Although the exact date and location of Reverend Kim’s death are not known, his remains are believed to be in People’s Army Camp 91, a garrison in Sangwon, a suburb on the outer skirts of Pyongyang.

South Korean courts have convicted one North Korean agent in Rev. Kim’s kidnapping; another was recently reported to be under investigation.

In 2004, then-U.S. Senator Barack Obama of Illinois signed a letter to the North Korean mission to the United Nations, promising that he would oppose removing North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism until North Korea accounted for Rev. Kim and returned his remains to his family. Presidential candidate Barack Obama broke that promise on 2008, when he announced his support for President Bush’s decision to remove North Korea from the list to reward North Korea for what amounted to non-performance on its promise to verifiably give up its nuclear weapons program.

State Department negotiator Christopher Hill was later asked by a Washington Post reporter whether he’d received a letter from Mrs. Kim, asking for Hill’s assistance in bringing Rev. Kim’s remains home for a funeral and burial. Hill denied receiving the letter, only to have this blog publish photographs of Hill receiving the letter from Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Hill is now the U.S. Ambassador in a sleepy diplomatic backwater called Baghdad.

The North Koreans haven’t made an appearance to defend the suit. The plaintiffs recently translated their complaint into Korean and served it on the North Koreans. The attorney for the plaintiffs filed a proof of mailing with the court on January 21, 2010. The defendants have 60 days to answer. Tick, tock.

Case Documents:
* First Amended Complaint and Lien of Lis Pendens
* Plaintiff’s Status Report
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Massie v. Government of the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Case No. 06-00749, The Honorable Henry H. Kennedy

pueblo-crew-middle-finger.jpgSurviving crew members of the U.S.S. Pueblo and Rose Bucher, the widow of the skipper, Cdr. Lloyd Bucher, sued for the horrific torture the crew endured at the hands of the North Koreans in 1968. Here’s an excerpt from the court’s findings of fact and conclusions of law:

72. Like most other hostages, Massie was dragged out of his room and beaten with weapons ranging from belts, boards, boots and buckles. He had his arms pulled back and a two by-four placed though them. He was then beaten in the stomach and kicked on his shoulders and arms. He also had to hold a chair over his head until he couldn’t hold it any more. Then he was kicked. See Tr. 109, April 21, 2008. The hostages were beaten so badly that the torture rooms were covered in blood. Each succeeding hostage was forced to clean up the blood of the preceding hostage before having their own blood spread over the walls and floor for the next hostage to clean up. See id. at 108.

The North Koreans did not appear to defend their conduct, so on December 30, 2008, the court entered a default judgment for the plaintiffs in the amount of $65,850,000, almost four times the price of these sweet yachts Kim Jong Il tried to buy last year, as opposed to, say, grain or infant formula. The plaintiffs are now in the process of finding, attaching, and levying North Korean assets to satisfy the judgment. On February 18, 2010, the court entered a writ of garnishment; however, the document is not available online (it’s probably sealed) so I can’t tell you whose assets were garnished, or for how much.

Case Documents:
* Complaint
* Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law (Consider yourself warned)
* Judgment
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Kaplan v. Hezbollah
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Case No. 09-00646, The Honorable Richard W. Roberts

north-korean-weapons-iran.jpgPlaintiffs allege that they were injured by Hezbollah rocket attacks on Israel sue North Korea for assisting Hezbollah with military training, assistance in digging a network of underground bunkers, and supplying it with weapons via Iran (Sound familiar? Not even a little?). Here’s an excerpt from the complaint:

Working in concert with the Islamic Republic of Iran (“Iran”), North Korea provided rocket and missile components to Hezbollah. North Korea sent these rocket and missile components to Iran where, pursuant to a prior agreement between Iran, North Korea and Hezbollah, they were assembled and shipped to Hezbollah in Lebanon. These rocket and missile components were intended by North Korea and Hezbollah to be used and were in fact used by Hezbollah to carry out rocket and missile attacks against Israeli civilian targets.

Most of the damages alleged are psychological, but not all:

34. On July 13, 2006, at approximately 14:30, plaintiff Michael Fuchs was driving his car in Safed when a rocket filed by Hezbollah at Safed struck nearby. Massive amounts of shrapnel penetrated Fuchs’ car and caused him severe injuries. Fuchs lost large quantities of blood, lost consciousness and was rushed to the intensive care unit of Rebecca Ziv Hospital. Fuchs’ throat was slashed as a result of the explosion and his right hand remains completely paralyzed. Fuchs has been permanently disabled. He is unable to work and relies on intensive and expensive medical treatments on an on-going basis. As a result of this rocket attack Michael Fuchs suffered severe physical, psychological, emotional and financial injuries.

But was it a North Korean rocket? The complaint doesn’t say, and that’s an apparent weakness in the case for causation. That said, I’ll be the last to say that an injustice was done if North Korea loses a few million dollars (real ones) in this case. There’s compelling evidence that North Korea is supplying arms to Iranian-backed terrorists who intentionally target civilians. What’s more, the Israeli law firm behind this suit has also been assisting with both of the other pending complaints listed on this page.

The plaintiffs are in the process of serving their complaint on the North Koreans and filed an affidavit of foreign mailing with the court on February 25, 2010. So far, North Korea’s lawyers haven’t showed up to defend the case.

Case Documents:
* Complaint
* Answer to Court’s Order to Show Cause
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Calderon-Cardona v. Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico, Case No. 08-01367, The Honorable Francisco A. Besosa

the_lod_massacre.jpgIn 1972, the Japanese Red Army (JRA) and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) carried out a terrorist attack at Lod Airport, Israel that killed 26 people, 17 of them religious pilgrims from Puerto Rico (Wikipedia says 24 dead and 78 injured). One of those killed was Carmelo Calderón-Molina, a 77 year-old father of eight. The terrorists shot him the heart while he was trying to protect others. He died at the scene. One of his daughters was listening to the radio when she heard it announced that her father had been killed. She had to tell her brothers and sisters that their father had been murdered. Although it’s fairly well known that North Korea has long sheltered and supported the JRA, the complaint alleges that North Korea also helped the PFLP:

43. The North Korean government trained members of the PFLP and other terrorist organizations in the 1960s and 1970s, and this training was conducted in, among other places, North Korea, Lebanon, and the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (a.k.a. South Yemen, a state in present-day southern Yemen that united with the Yemen Arab Republic in 1990 to form the current Republic of Yemen).

44. In September 1970, George Habash, PFLP’s leader, traveled to North Korea where he met with North Korean officials and received assurances of North Korean support for the PFLP. During this visit, which occurred under the auspices of the North Korean government, George Habash was introduced to nine senior members of the JRA terrorist leadership who were being sheltered by and operating in North Korea.

45. As a result of this meeting between George Habash and the JRA leadership, an agreement was reached whereby the PFLP and JRA would cooperate in future joint terrorist attacks and propaganda efforts.

46. Thereafter, North Korean government instructors provided guerilla warfare training and other expert advice and guidance on terrorism to members of the PFLP and the JRA in the PFLP’s training bases in the Beka’a Valley in Lebanon.

The trial concluded on December 3, 2009. North Korea did not make any appearance or present evidence. The court ordered the plaintiffs to present the court with proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law by March 4, 2010, but the deadline has been extended by an unknown number of days. Assuming the plaintiffs meet that deadline, the court is likely to enter a default judgment against the North Koreans.

A previous action by the same plaintiffs, making similar allegations, was filed in the District of the District of Columbia, on April 24, 2006, and voluntarily dismissed on April 11, 2008. It may be that the plaintiffs wanted to re-venue the case for the convenience of their clients and witnesses. The new suit was filed on March 27, 2008.

Case Documents:
* Complaint
* Motion for Entry of Default Judgment
* Docket Note of Trial, Part 1
* Docket Note of Trial, Part 2

Update: The court awarded the plaintiffs $78 million in compensatory damages and $300 million in punitive damages on July 15, 2010. You can read the decision here.

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North Korea has never acknowledged, apologized for, admitted, or paid compensation of any of these acts. President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008, to reward North Korea for promising to give up its nuclear weapons program. On May 26, 2009, North Korea conducted its second test of a nuclear weapon. On February 3, 2010, President Obama decided that he would not restore North Korea to the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

North Korean Foreign Trade:
Here is where I’ll continue to aggregate news reports about companies doing business with North Korea. This isn’t my advice to anyone to do anything; it’s just a collection of links, mostly to news reports that report on particular foreign investments in or business partnerships with North Korea. It’s still a work in progress, but you can see that.

China South Korea Sweden Switzerland
-Tonghua Steel & Iron -Hyundai Asan
-Woori Bank
-Noko Jeans -Exotix
United Kingdom United States
-The Koryo Group
-The Chosun Fund
-Remote Lands

5 comments

  1. Glans says:

    Can people injured by US weapons and policies sue our government? And if they win a judgment, it’ll be paid with our tax dollars, right?

  2. You mean, for instance, if the U.S. government knowingly arms terrorists?

  3. Glans says:

    Or, for instance, invading a country that didn’t attack us. Or overthrowing a foreign government, or sending in assassins. Or bombing a country “secretly.” Stuff like that.

    And dispossesd Palestinians can sue us for supporting Israel, right? Because their legislature can, by statute, revoke the “soverign immunity” of our government.

    And North Korea can sue us for bombing their cities during the war.

    Lawsuits are a heck of a strategy. No possibility of blowback.

  4. Glans, You’re trolling every off-topic topic you can possibly raise just to express us how much you hate America. Let me focus you on the actual topics at hand: (1) a state intentionally tortures prisoners of war, crippling them physically and destroying them emotionally; (2) a state intentionally supports, arms, and trains terrorists it knows will deliberately attack unarmed civilians; (3) a state sends it agents to kidnap a courageous, nonviolent humanitarian and then tortures him to death for refusing to renounce his faith.

    Any foreign plaintiff who alleges that the United States has in fact done any of those things can indeed file suit against the U.S. government in a U.S. federal district court. Foreign plaintiffs sue the United States for various things all the time. Rule 28(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows a plaintiff to give depositions or submit statements from abroad without setting foot in the United States. For actions occurring inside the United States, the plaintiff could sue under the Federal Tort Claims Act or allege constitutional violations against individual officers under Bivens v. Six Unknown Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). For actions committed abroad, a plaintiff could sue for “violations of the laws of nations” such as slavery and piracy under the Alien Tort Statute or, depending on the right allegedly violated, under Bivens.

    What makes your comment particularly dumb are the manifest reasons why this isn’t happening more often — largely because the governments of the nations of which you speak do not value or protect the individual rights of their own citizens. First, unlike the United States, they probably haven’t waived sovereign immunity to allow their own citizens to sue their own government, and the last thing they want their citizens to see is the idea that individuals have rights, or that governments are accountable for violating them. Second, they don’t have fair and functioning court systems that allow even the most hostile parties a fair hearing. Third, all of those governments depend on the generosity of the American people in the form of humanitarian aid they’d rather not jeopardize; after all, it’s a very lucrative source of graft and patronage.

    By the way, none of the lawsuits here are about war-like acts between nation-states, acts that are generally considered immune from suit by all countries. If that were not the case, then South Korea could have sued North Korea for starting the damn war in the first place.

    Are you being stupid intentionally, or are you just Canadian?

    I think you ought to have your own web site. For your first post, I’d like you to poll some Iraqi voters about how much they’d like Saddam back.

  5. Alec says:

    No, ‘dispossed’ Palestinian Arabs cannot sue, Knob-end Glans… are you aware that the ATs never were a soverign state, and therefore have no negotiating party? Maybe they should sue those neighbouring states which keep them dispossed rather than treating them like the 99.5 millions other refugees since 1945 have been (and by that I mean there are 1/2 Palestinian refugees, and not te three millions I bet you’re about to say).

    Honestly, someone people need to bone up on international convention… and realize blogs ain’t needs feeds. D’you go onto pro-Palestinian ones and complain they’re not discussing Korea?

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