A Sydney-based "loyal agent of North Korea" has been charged with trying to sell missile parts and technology on the black market to raise money for Pyongyang in breach of international sanctions, Australian police said on Sunday.
Chan Han Choi, a naturalised Australian citizen of Korean descent, was attempting to broker illicit deals that could have generated "tens of millions of dollars" for North Korea, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) said.
The 59-year-old was involved in discussions to set up a ballistic missile production facility and the supply of missile construction plans in addition to components, software and the transfer of technical expertise from Pyongyang, police alleged.
Neil Gaughan, AFP Assistant Commissioner, told reporters the case was "like nothing we have ever seen on Australian soil", alleging the man was in contact with high-ranking North Korean officials.
"This man is a loyal agent of North Korea, believing he was acting to serve some higher patriotic purpose."
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The alleged agent’s plans did not involve other governments or officials, police said. Authorities did not reveal which individuals or entities the man was allegedly trying to trade with.
Mr Gaughan said the charges related to his alleged activity over the past year, but that allegations dated back to 2008.
Police started investigating Choi after a tip-off from another international agency on another matter, he said.
"I know these charges sound alarming, but we are not suggesting that there are any weapons or missile componentry that came to Australian soil," he said. "We're alleging all of the activity occurred offshore."
North Korea is under tough United Nations sanctions aimed at choking off revenue to Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programmes.
"This is a very important arrest, the charges laid are the greatest nature," Malcolm Turnbull, the Australian Prime Minister, said in Sydney.
"It is vitally important that all nations ... enforce those sanctions."
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The man, who has lived in Australia for three decades, allegedly used encrypted communication services to facilitate the attempted trades, which included the transfer of coal from North Korea to entities in Indonesia and Vietnam.
He is in custody and faces a total of six charges, with maximum penalties of up to 10 years in jail.
Investigators would not rule out further charges, and are probing other attempted commodity trades involving oil and gemstones.
"This is black market 101," Mr Gaughan said.
This is the first time charges have been laid for breaches under Canberra’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Act and for violating UN sanctions against North Korea in Australia.
Global anxiety about North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un’s authoritarian government has steadily risen this year, with Washington calling on other UN members to cut ties with Pyongyang in order to squeeze the secretive regime.