26 | JUN | 2019
Mexican U.S. resident behind North Korea embassy raid in Spain
The U.S. State department said on Tuesday the U.S. government was not involved in the raid - Photo: Sergio Perez/Reuters

Mexican U.S. resident behind North Korea embassy raid in Spain

Newsroom & Agencies
Mexico City
EFE & Reuters
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Mexican national Adrián Hong Chang led a group of 10 intruders into the embassy on February 22

Adrián Hong Chang, a 35-year-old Mexican citizen living in the United States led a group of 10 intruders that forced its way into the North Korean embassy in Madrid on February 22, after which he handed over the audiovisual material he allegedly stole from the FBI in New York, Spanish judicial authorities said on Tuesday.

Judge José María de la Mata agreed on Tuesday to share the details of a case opened in a Spanish National Court investigating the forced entry into the North Korean embassy in the Spanish capital and theft of computers on February 22.

Hong Chang first arrived in Spain on February 6 in a flight coming from New York. On February 19, he took another flight to the Iberian nation from Prague, in the Czech Republic. He stayed at the Carlton and Aitana hotels in the Spanish capital, where he registered with passports from Mexico and the United States.

Before conducting the assault to the North Korean embassy, Hong Chang took the time to renew his passport at the Mexican Consulate in Madrid on February 20, according to judicial reports.

The judge believes a group of 10 intruders identified themselves during the assault as human rights campaigners, according to a Spanish High Court document.

“The criminals accessed the embassy by force, using fake firearms, machetes, iron rods, and knifes, after which they beat up the staff until they managed to tie them down. Then they placed bags on their heads and dragged them to different rooms, where they were able to keep an eye on them,” assured the judge.

After several hours, the assailants fled on three diplomatic vehicles, two of which were later recovered. The criminals also stole computers and personal effects.

Following the assault, Hong Chan returned to New York on February 23 in a flight coming out of Lisbon.

Four days later, the group’s leader contacted the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) a few days later to pass on information about the raid, the document said.

A judicial source told Reuters the judge believes all the identified suspects went to the United States after the raid and that he would request their extradition to Spain, where they could face up to 28 years in prison.

State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said the U.S. government was not involved in the raid, which Spanish High Court documents said involved a Mexican citizen who is a U.S. resident and a U.S. citizen, as well as South Korean citizens.

“The United States government had nothing to do with this,” Palladino told a regular news briefing, stressing that the United States called for the protection of all embassies.

He referred questions about the investigation to Spanish authorities. The State Department did not respond immediately to a request for comment about the extradition request.

The FBI said in a statement it was “our standard practice to neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation”, adding that the agency had a strong working relationship with Spanish law enforcement partners.

North Korea activist

The Mexican national named by Spanish authorities as one of the embassy raid’s leaders, Adrian Hong, is a longtime activist who helped found the refugee aid organization Liberty in North Korea (LiNK), and later led an organization preparing for an “imminent, dramatic change” in the country, analysts said.

Spanish court documents said Hong played a leading role in the break-in, and that after fleeing to the United States he contacted the FBI to offer information that had been stolen.

Hong could not be reached for immediate comment.

Hong was among several LiNK activists who were arrested and deported from China in late 2006 as they were trying to help a party of North Korean refugees escape.

In a statement on Tuesday, LiNK said Hong had not been involved in any way with the group for more than 10 years and LiNK had no information on his current activities.

Hong told a newspaper in the United Arab Emirates in 2011 that the Arab Spring uprisings then unfolding were “a dress rehearsal for North Korea”.

Kang Cheol-hwan, a defector and founder of the North Korea Strategy Centre in Seoul, said Hong went so far as to travel to Libya to research the aftermath of Muammar Gaddafi’s ouster.


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'Free Joseon'

Cheollima Civil Defense takes its name from a winged horse commonly featured in East Asian mythology. Free Joseon, meanwhile, references the last Korean dynasty, and a name that North Korea still often uses to refer to itself.

On its website, the group used soaring language to declare itself the “a provisional government” of Free Joseon as “the sole legitimate representative of the Korean people of the north.”

The website also began to sell “post-liberation blockchain visas” that can be bought with cryptocurrency, and on March 11 it claimed responsibility for defacing the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

North Korea has not publicly commented on the Madrid break-in, nor filed a complaint with Spanish police.

The group’s brazen actions led some to speculate that there could be serious dissent against Kim Jong Un taking shape. But other analysts were more skeptical, and say there are lingering questions over possible ties to foreign intelligence agencies.

“I’m still inclined to believe there was some professional involvement, because taking over a foreign mission is not an easy operation,” said Korea Risk Group director Andrei Lankov.

“They took computers and hard disks, but if you don’t have highly specialized capabilities for breaking the codes, it’s probably not going to be useful to anyone but major intelligence agencies.”

Cheollima Civil Defense said on Tuesday that no governments were involved or were aware of the embassy operation beforehand. It said it had shared “certain information of enormous potential value” with the FBI at the agency’s request, but that agreements of confidentiality “appear to have been broken”.


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