Melbourne — Australian police say they have arrested a man for allegedly trying to sell missile components and coal for North Korea.
This is the first time charges have been brought in Australia for the sale of weapons of mass destruction.
The man was charged on two counts under a law against proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, police said on Sunday. He was charged with four others under legislation enforcing UN and Australian sanctions against North Korea.
The Sydney resident of Korean descent was identified by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and other media as
59-year-old Chan Han Choi. They said he had lived in Australia for more than 30 years.
Police said he was arrested in the suburb of Eastwood on Saturday and was due to appear in court later on Sunday.
He came to the attention of authorities earlier in 2017, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) said. "This man was a loyal agent of North Korea, who believed he was acting to serve some higher patriotic purpose," said assistant commissioner Neil Gaughan.
"This case is like nothing we have ever seen on Australian soil," he said. Police would allege the man tried to broker the sale of missile components including software for guidance systems of ballistic missiles, as well as trying to sell coal to third parties in Indonesia and Vietnam.
Gaughan said the trade could have been worth "tens of millions of dollars" if successful.
Cash-strapped North Korea came under a new round of stricter UN sanctions earlier in 2017 after it pressed on with its missile and nuclear programmes in defiance of international pressure. Tension has risen dramatically on the
Korean peninsula, with the North’s ballistic-missile launches and its sixth and most powerful nuclear test, as well as joint military drills between South Korea and the UN, which the North has described as preparation for war.
Pyongyang claimed that its latest intercontinental ballistic missile launch in November had the range to reach all of the US. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged North Korea on Friday to carry out a "sustained cessation" of its weapons testing to allow talks about its missile and nuclear programmes.
But the North has shown little interest in talks until it has the ability to hit the US mainland with a nuclear-tipped missile.
Gaughan said that the man had been in touch with high-ranking North Korean officials, but no missile components had ever made it to Australia. He said that there was no indication that Indonesia or Vietnam officials had been involved in the attempted coal sales.
"We are alleging that all the activity occurred offshore and was purely another attempt for this man to trade goods and services as a way to raise revenue for the government of North Korea," he said.
The man faces up to 18 years in jail if convicted.