And Now For The Bizarre NK Stories

16 Apr

John Sweeney with North Korean soldierIt was only a matter of time before the bizarre aspects of inter-Korean relations starting to make its way to the top of the pile. Here are two stories proving that the Korean peninsula generates criminality globally, and still manages to be a laughing-stock.

Case in point #1: fiction has nothing on this “deep kimchi spy mystery” (via Spy Talk).

In addition to North Korea’s Mission to the United Nations, the country has one registered agent in the United States, a businessman who lives in Upper Manhattan who has made casino and liquor deals with Pyongyang and was once convicted of lying to FBI agents in a mysterious case that involved spies and officials on both sides of the Korean Peninsula.

Il Woo Park is a 64-year-old South Korean national with legal permanent resident status in the United States. According to court documents, news reports, and filings with the government, Park has had extensive dealings with North Korea, South Korea — and the FBI. His unique relationships with the United States and the two Koreas remain murky and perhaps unprecedented.

Park ran a company called Korea Pyongyang Trading U.S.A., Inc., out of his small apartment in the neighborhood of Inwood, according to court documents. Park’s business was based on what he regularly described as extensive connections to the North Korean government. However, as Park was making deals to bypass strict economic sanctions and import North Korean booze into the United States he was also apparently working with a network of spies from North Korea’s sworn enemy, South Korea.

In 2007, Park ended up in federal court charged with multiple counts of lying to FBI agents who were investigating South Korean spies living covertly in the United States. His case involved secret phone lines that even the FBI was unable to identify, a meeting at Grant’s Tomb in Manhattan — and envelopes of cash. Park eventually pleaded guilty to all of the charges but was sentenced only to probation. The plea agreement remains sealed. After his conviction Park was still allowed to travel back and forth between New York and Pyongyang even while on probation.

But it’s not just Koreans who have the monopoly on zany stupidity. Case in point #2: the BBC wins this prize.

The director of the London School of Economics has revealed that some of the university’s students who travelled to North Korea with BBC Panorama journalist John Sweeney have received threats from the communist state since returning to the UK.

Craig Calhoun, speaking to the Guardian from New York, also said that the LSE had heard from other students who are being advised to cancel upcoming foreign trips, after Sweeney controversially used what was ostensibly an academic visit as cover to film a Panorama undercover documentary in North Korea that the BBC is adament will be broadcast on Monday evening.

“We have received complaints from North Korean authorities – and some of the students who went on the trip have received threats. They have received letters,” he added.

“We already have heard from students who had trips [planned] in the summer who are being advised to cancel them. It affects not just the LSE and North Korea, it affects trips that are not undercover or spying trips. Lots of countries will now be problematic because of John Sweeney and the Panorama programme which the BBC has stood by.”

Calhoun also weighed in on the dispute between the LSE and BBC about whether or not the students on the North Korea trip gave their informed consent for Sweeney’s filming to go ahead, saying the corporation had admitted it has no written evidence a journalist would join the trip.

“There was no written evidence there was an indication that a journalist would join the trip, no indication that the BBC itself was central to organising the trip,” he added. “A written consent would have been very helpful since they were putting the students at risk, that this was not in fact an LSE trip – that this was organised by the BBC.

“Only after they reached Beijing [en route to the North Korean capital Pyongyang] was it revealed who the journalists were and that there were several and that this was a film effort.”

The BBC disputed the claim that it was central to organising the trip. Ceri Thomas, the BBC News head of programmes, told Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday morning that the trip would have gone ahead even if the corporation had not been involved.

These are examples of how a rogue regime on the outskirts of any international legal scrutiny attracts the worst in criminal and unprofessional behavior from people who wouldn’t try this crap where they knew courts would find them (well, courts where Seoul can’t interfere).

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