North Korea announced on Friday it was severing diplomatic ties with Malaysia, ending its close relationship with Kuala Lumpur until the 2017 assassination of leader Kim Jong Un’s half-brother.
The North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that it had taken this decision after the extradition on March 17 by the Malaysian authorities of one of its nationals to the United States.
He called this act an “unforgivable crime” committed “with servility in the face of American pressure”.
Malaysia was one of the country’s only nuclear allies, but relations deteriorated four years ago when Kim Jong Nam, who was a critic of the North Korean regime, died after receiving on the face a nerve agent at Kuala Lumpur airport.
This assassination was largely blamed on the North, which Pyongyang denied.
Their relations had since improved somewhat, with Malaysia notably deciding to reopen its embassy in Pyongyang, but Friday’s announcement puts an end to this warming.
The North Korean ministry “announces the complete rupture of its diplomatic relations with Malaysia”, according to a statement of the North Korean ministry of the Foreign affairs diffused by the official agency KCNA.
Mun Chol Myong, the North Korean national subject to extradition, was “engaged in legitimate foreign trade activities in Singapore,” the agency said.
This rupture comes the day after the visit to South Korea of two senior American officials of the new administration.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin tour Asia to strengthen Washington’s ties with traditional partners in the region in the face of North Korea and growing Chinese influence .
On Thursday, Pyongyang warned that its position will remain unchanged with the United States as long as it does not renounce its “hostile policy” towards it.
On March 9, Mun Chol Myong had seen his last appeal rejected by Malaysia’s highest court against extradition to the United States, where he will face charges of money laundering.
Mr. Mun, in his 50s, had been living in the Southeast Asian country for a decade with his family when he was arrested in 2019 following an extradition request from Washington.
In court, he rejected the accusations of the FBI (American Federal Police) according to which he led a criminal group in charge of exports to North Korea, in violation of international sanctions, which would also have laundered funds through companies screens.
He is accused of four counts of money laundering and two counts of conspiracy to launder money in the course of his work in Singapore, according to his lawyers.
The authorities did not say what goods he was able to illegally export to North Korea. Other cases in the past have revealed exports of alcohol, watches and other luxury goods.
The United Nations, the United States and other countries have imposed sanctions prohibiting the export of certain products to North Korea, in response to its continued nuclear and ballistic programs.
As of December 2020, North Korea had embassies in around 25 countries, including Cuba, Iran, Germany and its main ally, China, according to Seoul.
North Korea has long been accused of using its diplomatic representations to conduct intelligence, money laundering and breaching sanctions.