Kim Sang-duk, a U.S. citizen and professor at the Yanbian University of Science and Technology (YUST) in Yanji, China, was detained in North Korea on Saturday at Pyongyang’s Sunan airport, a source familiar with the case confirmed to NK News on Sunday.
Chan-Mo Park, current chancellor of the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), said that Kim and his wife had been on his way back to China after teaching a class in International Finance and Management at the university.
“Professor Kim Sang-duk was arrested on the way out of the country yesterday (22nd),” Park told NK News over email. “From what I heard, he is being investigated for the matters that are not tied to the PUST.”
Kim joins two other U.S. citizens in detention there, 22-year-old Otto Warmbier and 62-year-old Kim Dong Chul, both of whom are serving sentences of hard labor of 15 and 10 years respectively.
An earlier report from South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported that Kim is a 50-something Korean-American.
YUST is in Yanji, a Chinese city on the border with North Korea. The university’s website features the profile of professor Kim, describing him as having a masters in accounting.
A YUST document from 2007 lists Kim as having attended Riverside College in California and says he previously taught marketing and economics there.
Reports in Yonhap and Christianity Today say the North Korean side is yet to give any official reason for the detention.
Calls to YUST’s Department of Academic Affairs and Department of Planning on Sunday went unanswered by NK News.
Yanbian University was established by the South Korean Northeast Asia Foundation for Education and Culture in 1992, and has links to the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) in North Korea’s capital.
Kim was involved in relief and aid programs in the DPRK, the Yonhap report says, and was in-country for a month to discuss these projects.
“We can expect that like before the DPRK will be willing to consider the premature release of the three detained Americans if the U.S. sends a senior figure to Pyongyang,” said Tristan Webb, a senior analyst at NK Pro.
“In the past, the U.S. has secured releases by sending James Clapper (2014), Robert King (2011), Jimmy Carter (2010), and Bill Clinton (2009) – some of these were in a personal capacity, some were as personal envoys of the U.S. President.”
The U.S. State Department spokesperson, when contacted by NK News on Sunday (South Korean time), said they were investigating the reports but had no further information to provide.
Fellow U.S. citizen Warmbier was detained and sentenced for attempting to steal a poster from a room in the Yanggakdo Hotel in Pyongyang in January last year. Kim was sentenced in October 2015 for espionage.
JH Ahn and Chad O’Carroll contributed to this report