As US marshals hunt for the alleged ringleader of an invasion of the North Korean Embassy in Spain, denuclearization talks between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un hang in the balance.
The suspect, Adrian Hong Chang, should be considered “armed and dangerous,” according to a “wanted” poster released by the US Marshals Service on Monday. The North Korean government has called the invasion a “grave terrorist attack.” But Hong Chang’s lawyer tells Fox News his client is a human-rights activist who has been unjustly charged.
One co-defendant in the case, a 38-year-old ex-marine named Christopher Ahn, was arrested last week at Hong Chang’s home in Los Angeles. Ahn is being held without bail in Los Angeles. Spain has requested his extradition. Hong Chang is still at large.
The brazen invasion and resulting criminal charges have become an international incident that could affect whether Trump and Kim have a third summit after the collapse of the talks in Hanoi in February.
Spanish authorities depict the embassy invasion as a virtual strong-arm robbery aimed at obtaining information about Kim Hyok Chol, an adviser to Kim on nuclear issues who once served in the Madrid embassy.
On February 22, Hong Chang gained access to the embassy and let in six fellow intruders, armed with knives, iron bars, machetes and imitation pistols, according to a warrant filed in Los Angeles last Friday. The men allegedly restrained and physically beat several embassy employees and held them captive for several hours before fleeing the compound with computer equipment and a mobile phone stolen from the embassy. Days later, Hong Chang, also known as Adrian Hong, gave the stolen material to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation in New York.
According to Reuters, a Spanish court said last month that the FBI later handed the material over to Spanish authorities, who have since returned it to Pyongyang’s mission in Madrid.
Hong Chang’s lawyer, Lee Wolosky, formerly US president Barack Obama’s special envoy on Guantanamo, insisted that Chang was invited into the embassy.
“There was no attack,” Wolosky said. “There was no invasion. There was no assault.” Hong Chang’s group, known as Cheollima Civil Defense or Free Joseon (Free North Korea), has “set up an alternative government, a provisional government, to directly challenge and to take over from the Kim regime,” Wolosky said. “It’s an extraordinary development.”
As the Trump administration considers the possibility of a third summit, US law enforcement is pursuing Hong Chang.
“I imagine the North Koreans are delighted that the Department of Justice is pursuing Adrian Hong Chang,” Jeffrey Lewis, an arms-control scholar at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California, said in an e-mail.
“The North Koreans probably have some incentive to play nice in the hopes that the US will do all the legwork in breaking up Cheollima Civil Defense for them,” said Lewis, who monitors the Korea negotiations.
As Hong Chang has advocated the overthrow Kim’s government, the Trump administration has edged closer to a denuclearization deal that might facilitate North Korea’s long-standing goal of ending US military presence on the Korean Peninsula.
Asked if Free Joseon is seeking to disrupt the Trump-Kim talks, Lewis replied, “I presume that is a goal, yes.”
Hong Chang’s work on North Korea was supported for several years by the TED Talk organization. Hong Chang was a TED fellow in 2009 and 2010. He organized TED Talks in San Diego in December 2011, and Libya in February 2012. In June 2013, he hosted a TED Talk video with North Korean defector Joseph Kim that has been viewed 2.3 million times.
This article was produced by the Deep State, a project of the Independent Media Institute, which provided it to Asia Times.