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US makes arrests in 'North Korea drug plot'

Five men extradited to US for allegedly trying to traffic methamphetamine from the reclusive communist state.

Last updated: 21 Nov 2013 11:35
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A 2011 report by the Pulitzer Centre says meth produced in North Korea is typically shipped to China [EPA]

Five men have been arrested and accused of trying to smuggle methamphetamine from North Korea into the US, authorities say.

The arrests on Wednesday came after two of the men agreed to sell 100kg of the illegal drug earlier this year to confidential sources working with the US Drug Enforcement Administration, according to federal prosecutors.

Two of the men, one a Chinese citizen and the other from the Philippines, are allegedly members of a Hong Kong-based crime ring and came to the attention of authorities last year for selling meth from North Korea, according to the federal indictment.

The others - two citizens of Great Britain and a resident of Thailand - agreed to store and transport the drugs.

The case demonstrates "the emergence of North Korea as a significant source of methamphetamine in the global drug trade", Michele Leonhart,  DEA administrator, said in a statement.

That shipment was seized by law enforcement agents in Thailand and the Philippines and was tested as being more than 99 percent pure, prosecutors said.

The accused men planned to transport the drug to the US by boat.

"This investigation continued to highlight the emergence of North Korea as a significant source of methamphetamine in the global drug trade," Leonhart said in a statement issued by the US attorney's office in New York.

A report published by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting in 2011 said methamphetamine produced in North Korea typically is shipped to China.

One of the accused claimed the North Korean government had destroyed several meth labs and that his organisation was the only one currently able to obtain the drug from the country, the indictment said.

Another said he belonged to an armed motorcycle gang that was to guard the drug in Thailand, according to the indictment.

All five face charges of conspiracy to import methamphetamine into the US. If convicted, they each face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.

They were arrested in Thailand in September and extradited to the US on Tuesday, prosecutors said.

Besides US authorities, the bust involved authorities in Thailand, Liberia and Romania and also Interpol, prosecutors said.

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