Australia

Sydney man charged with acting as an agent of North Korea

A Sydney man is charged with brokering sales and discussing the supply of components for weapons of mass destruction as an agent for North Korea.

A South Korean-born Sydney man has been charged with allegedly acting as an economic agent for North Korea by trying to raise tens of millions of dollars for the rogue state by selling missile components and expertise, counter to Australian and United Nations sanctions.

The 59-year-old man was arrested in the Sydney suburb of Eastwood on Saturday morning after a "very complex" AFP investigation.

Chan Han Choi is facing six charges related to brokering the sale of missile componentry and expertise from North Korea to other international entities, and attempting to transfer coal from North Korea to entities in Indonesia and Vietnam.

Choi didn't appear or apply for bail when his matter was mentioned in Parramatta bail court on Sunday, and it was formally refused by Acting Magistrate Carl Milovanovich.

Choi is the first person in Australia to be charged with brokering sales and discussing the supply of weapons of mass destruction, AFP Assistant Commissioner Neil Gaughan told reporters in Sydney on Sunday.

"His actions were all around trying to raise revenue for the government of North Korea," said Mr Gaughan, adding that all business activity happened offshore.

Mr Gaughan stressed there had been no risk to the Australian public and that no weapons, or missile componentry - which he said was software - had been imported into Australia.

The charges, he said, relate to alleged activity over the past year, but allegations date back to 2008.

Mr Gaughan was quick not to label Choi, who has lived in Australia for 30 years, as a spy but as a broker.

"This man was a loyal agent of North Korea, who believed he was acting to serve some higher patriotic purpose," Mr Gaughan said.

"I think at the end of the day he would sell whatever he could to make money back for the North Korean government."

Choi has been charged over two transactions that were unsuccessful, but there may be more.

Tillerson: 'North Korea must earn its way back to the table'

"But we estimate that if these trades were successful we're talking tens of millions of dollars," he told reporters in Sydney.

He said the AFP started investigating the man after tip-off from another international agency on another matter.

The AFP allege the man was generating income for Pyongyang by brokering the sale of computer software for the guidance of ballistic missiles to other "international entities".

Mr Gaughan emphasised neither Indonesia nor Vietnam - or authorities in those countries - were involved.

It's alleged the man was using encrypted communication to broker sales and discuss the supply of weapons of mass destruction.

"This case is like nothing we have ever seen on Australia soil," Mr Gaughan said.

"Any individual who attempts to fly in the face of sanctions cannot and will not go unnoticed in Australia."

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he had been briefed on the arrest and congratulated the AFP for its investigation.

"It is important for people to know that if they are assisting the North Korean regime, or they are thinking of assisting them, the AFP will find you and arrest you," he told reporters in Sydney.

The maximum penalty for the offences is 10 years imprisonment.

Mr Gaughan says investigations are continuing and more charges will be laid.

Mr Milovanovich adjourned the matter to December 20 in Central Local Court.

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