An Australian man suspected of selling missile parts and other military technology on behalf of North Korea was arrested by authorities on Dec. 16.
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) accused Chan Han Choi, 59, of being an “economic agent” for the nuclear-armed regime by attempting to broker the sale of missile components, software for ballistic missiles and other unidentified North Korean military expertise, The New York Times reported.
Neil Gaughan, assistant commissioner for the federal police, told reporters that Choi tried to sell such military expertise to “international entities” and discussed “the supply of weapons of mass destruction.” They believe he had contact with “high-ranking officials” in Pyongyang.
“We think he’s acting as an economic agent on behalf of North Korea,” Gaughan said at a news conference.
“He’s doing it out of a patriotic purpose. I think at the end of the day, he’d sell whatever he could to make money back for the North Korean government.”
Choi, a naturalized Australian citizen, is believed to be from South Korea. He has lived in Australia for over 30 years.
Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Sydney neighbors described him as a soft-spoken cat lover.
“He was quite nice, he seemed to be OK. He was very softly spoken … It’s a real shock, bloody oath,” Geoff Cowdroy, 61, commented.
Paul Barnes, 55, was in the same building when Cho was arrested.
“They took him back up to his room … and they spent probably the best part of half an hour here. When I left for work they were still here… You just get a sense — he looked suss to me,” Barnes said.
Meanwhile, Traleen Yuen, who lives next to Choi’s apartment, added, “He was so nice, so normal. I would never have expected this, he commented on my cat and was very normal. He was polite and quiet.”
Choi was charged under Australia’s 1995 Weapons of Mass Destruction (Prevention of Proliferation) Act. His arrest, the first of its kind in the country, comes as North Korea continues to develop its nuclear program that has gained it international sanctions.
The isolated nation also threatened Australia with a nuclear strike earlier this year:
“The present government of Australia is blindly and zealously toeing the US line. It is hard to expect good words from the foreign minister of such government.
“If Australia persists in following the US moves to isolate and stifle the DPRK and remains a shock brigade of the US master, this will be a suicidal act of coming within the range of the nuclear strike of the strategic force of the DPRK.”
However, Gaughan assured that Cho did not pose any “direct risk” to Australian citizens as his activities were carried out offshore, BBC noted.
“I know these charges sound alarming. Let me be clear we are not suggesting there are any weapons or missile component that ever came to Australian soil,” Gaughan explained.
“Any individual who attempts to fly in the face of sanctions cannot and will not go unnoticed in Australia.”
In addition to military technology, Choi was also accused of selling North Korean coal in Indonesia and Vietnam, although no evidence on the involvement of local officials has been found.
Choi faces up to 10 years in prison for a total of six charges, and he has been denied bail.