North Korea said it would cut diplomatic relations with Malaysia after a court in the Southeast Asian nation ruled that a North Korean man could be extradited to the United States to face money-laundering charges, state media reported on Friday.
North Korea’s foreign affairs ministry also warned Washington would “pay a price”, in a statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
The North Korean statement did not name its citizen, but in early March, Malaysia’s top court ruled that a North Korean man, Mun Chol Myong, could be extradited.
Mun had lived in Malaysia for a decade and was arrested in May 2019 after US authorities requested his extradition. Malaysia’s government approved the request, but Mun challenged the bid.
In his affidavit, Mun denied accusations by the US that he was involved in supplying prohibited luxury goods from Singapore to North Korea in violation of UN sanctions while working in the city-state before moving to Malaysia in 2008.
He denied that he had laundered funds through front companies and that he issued fraudulent documents to support illicit shipments to his country. He said in his affidavit that he was the victim of a “politically motivated” extradition request aimed at pressuring North Korea over its missile program.
The North Korean foreign ministry called the extradition a “nefarious act and unpardonably heavy crime” by Malaysian authorities, who had “offered our citizen as a sacrifice of the US hostile move in defiance of the acknowledged international laws.”
Malaysia’s actions had destroyed “the entire foundation of the bilateral relations based on the respect for sovereignty,” it said.
Malaysia’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Friday that it “deeply regrets” North Korea’s decision to sever tiers.
“Malaysia denounces the decision as unfriendly and unconstructive, disrespecting the spirit of mutual respect and good neighbourly relations among members of the international community,” the ministry said.
It added that the decision was “clearly unwarranted, disproportionate and certainly disruptive towards the promotion of peace, stability and prosperity of our region”.
The ministry defended the extradition of Mun, saying it was only carried out after proper legal process was followed, and criticised North Korea for pressuring it to intervene in the case.
Kim Jong Nam assassination
Kuala Lumpur’s once-close ties with North Korea deteriorated sharply after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s estranged brother, Kim Jong Nam, was killed at a Kuala Lumpur airport in February 2017 when two women smeared his face with VX nerve agent, which the United Nations lists as a weapon of mass destruction.
Malaysia suspended the operation of its embassy in Pyongyang once it secured the safe return of nine citizens held in Pyongyang in exchange for the release of Kim Jong Nam’s body.
Despite a promise by Malaysia’s then-premier Mahathir Mohamad during an apparent thaw in diplomatic relations in 2018, the embassy never resumed operations.
North Korea had used Malaysia as a hub for its arms export operation, and to set up business entities for funnelling money to North Korea’s leadership.
It currently maintains an embassy in an upmarket residential district of Kuala Lumpur.
The statement did not mention what Pyongyang’s plans for the embassy.
“We warn in advance that the US – the backstage manipulator and main culprit of this incident – that it will also be made to pay a due price,” KCNA reported.
The US is reviewing its North Korea policy in consultation with its allies. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday the process would be completed in the next few weeks.