Chinese man arrested in Australia faces extradition to US in North Korea smuggling case

By Thomson Reuters Feb 20, 2024 | 7:55 PM

SYDNEY (Reuters) – A Chinese man arrested in Australia is awaiting extradition to the United States for alleged involvement in a North Korean scheme to generate revenue by selling counterfeit cigarettes, Australian authorities said on Wednesday.

Jin Guanghua was arrested in Victoria state in March in response to a request from the United States and remains in custody, Australia’s Attorney General’s Department said.

“The individual is wanted to face prosecution in the United States for a number of sanctions, bank fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy offences,” a spokesman for the department said in a statement.

The extradition warrant and Jin’s arrest was first reported by the Guardian on Tuesday.

A United States indictment unsealed last year alleges Jin, a Chinese citizen, committed bank fraud in an illegal scheme by North Korea to generate revenue through the purchase and sale of tobacco.

To avoid United Nations sanctions, North Korean banks used front companies, according to the indictment.

Jin was among three Chinese nationals acting as middlemen, purchasing tobacco for companies owned by North Korea’s military and government, and used to manufacture counterfeit cigarettes to generate hard currency, the FBI alleged.

North Korea is one of the largest producers globally of contraband cigarettes, including fake Western and Japanese brands, that are sold in Asia, the indictment said.

The raw tobacco was purchased from international suppliers and shipped to Dalian in China, where it was smuggled to North Korea, it said.

Jin was involved in the scheme between 2009 and 2019, the indictment said.

A Victorian magistrates court spokeswoman on Wednesday said a warrant for Jin was executed in court in August, and he was returned to the Metropolitan Remand Centre to await extradition.

Jin remains in custody “pursuant to the United States of America’s request for his extradition to face criminal charges in the United States”, the Attorney General’s department said.

The Chinese embassy in Australia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham in Sydney and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Christopher Cushing)