|North Korean Ri Jong-chol, center, who was arrested in connection with the death of Kim Jong Un's half-brother, is transferred from Sepang district police station in Sepang, Malaysia Friday, March 3, 2017. AP|
The United States Department of Justice has filed a criminal complaint against a North Korean man suspected of killing Kim Jong-un's half brother on charges of violating sanctions placed on the communist regime.
The justice department on Friday (Washington time) announced a criminal complaint charging Ri Jong-chol and two others with "conspiracy to violate North Korean Sanctions Regulations and bank fraud, and conspiracy to launder funds."
Ri is suspected of murdering Kim Jong-nam, the half brother of the North Korean leader, in 2017 in Malaysia. Ri was taken into custody but was later released due to lack of evidence.
"The defendants allegedly established and utilized front companies that transmitted U.S. dollar wires through the United States to purchase commodities on behalf of North Korean customers," the justice department's statement read.
|Ri Jong-chol talks to reporters from inside the North Korean Embassy in Beijing, Saturday. Yonhap|
Acting U.S. Attorney Michael R. Sherwin said Ri and the other defendants "knowingly and willfully circumvented sanctions designed to protect the U.S. financial system from abuse by individuals working on behalf of North Korea."
According to U.S. court documents, beginning in at least August 2015 and continuing until at least August 2016, the defendants deceived banks in the U.S. into processing transactions for North Korean customers. The defendants and their co-conspirators utilized financial cutouts and front companies to conceal the North Korean nexus.
Court documents said Ri was the deputy director of a company sanctioned by the U.S. treasury department, which referred to the company as a subordinate of the North Korean military.
The FBI's Minneapolis field office is investigating the case, the justice department said.
"The FBI will not stand idle while North Koreans attempt to covertly access the U.S. financial system in violation of U.S. sanctions," said Alan E. Kohler Jr., assistant director of the FBI's Counterintelligence Division. "The FBI will continue to protect the sanctity of the U.S. financial system." (Yonhap)