Christopher Ahn, an ex-marine accused of involvement in a February break-in at the DPRK embassy in Madrid, is likely to attempt to flee justice and will be held in captivity pending further proceedings into his potential extradition to Spain, a U.S. court ruled on Tuesday.
In documents dated April 19 but released today by the Department of Justice (DOJ), the U.S. government argued that Christopher Ahn, who was arrested last week, represented a “flight risk” and should be detained “without bond.”
U.S. Magistrate Judge Jean P. Rosenbluth for the Central District of California on Tuesday agreed to the motion.
Thursday’s arrests by U.S. authorities marked the first in the case since Spain’s High Court last month publicly named several suspects it said were involved in the raid in February on North Korea’s embassy in Madrid.
Spain has now formally requested they be extradited.
The attack, carried out by members of a group describing itself as “Free Joseon,” reportedly saw Ahn and others forcibly enter the DPRK embassy, before allegedly assaulting and restraining diplomatic staff.
The group — which has been confirmed to have been led by Adrian Hong, a long-time North Korea human rights activist and Mexican national — has denied the claims of assault.
They were also reported to have stolen hard disks, computers, and flash drives from the embassy — with Hong later said to have handed the data over to the U.S. authorities.
Reports on Friday stated that that equipment has now been returned to the DPRK mission, with court documents unsealed on Tuesday suggesting Hong may in those conversations have provided information that led to Ahn’s arrest.
“Following the attack… HONG CHANG told the Federal Bureau of Investigation that AHN was one of the members of the group who participated in the attack on the embassy and was a former United States Marine,” they read.
Hong was on Monday reported to have gone into hiding, with his lawyer Lee Wolosky telling CNN that he “fears for his safety” and repercussions from North Korean “hit squads.”
Christopher Ahn — listed on Linkedin as now working in “Digital Strategy & Marketing Consulting” — is a graduate of University of California, Irvine and holds a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Virginia.
He previously served in the U.S. military in the Marine Corps for six years, seeing action in Iraq at U.S.-run detention facilities in Fallujah and participating in other intelligence-related activities.
Ahn could face over ten years in prison in Spain for his alleged offenses, and stands accused by local authorities of, among other offenses, breaking and entering, injury, “robbery with violence and intimidation,” and “criminal organization.”
A warrant for his arrest was reported to have been issued by a Spanish judge on April 12.
Citing information provided to the U.S. government by Spanish authorities, the DOJ last week also argued that Ahn represented a “danger to the community” and revealed that he had been carrying legal firearms at the time of his arrest.
“He is accused of participating in a brazen attack on diplomatic personnel in Spain,” the documents read.
“Given the serious and violent nature of AHN’s alleged crimes, his military training, and his familiarity and access to firearms…” they continued, “the community both in the United States and abroad would be at risk were he to be released.”
Ahn’s organization and other observers, however, have protested his treatment at the hands of U.S. authorities.
One expert told NK News they believed the U.S. government’s case, as reflected in the documents unsealed on Tuesday, had “more holes than a slice of Swiss cheese.”
“It shows the case was cobbled together in a rush when, after weeks of hedging, the DOJ, presumably upon orders from the White House and State, made the decision to quash Free Joseon,” Sung-Yoon Lee, an Assistant Professor at Tufts University’s Fletcher School, said.
“Sloppiness pervades the complaint,” he continued, pointing to what he said he was a number of inconsistencies in the account of the break-in.
“The criminal complaint is based entirely on implausible accounts by the DPRK staff, who had life-and-death incentives to claim having been overpowered by thugs,” he continued.
A statement carried on the website of Free Joseon last week, too, expressed “dismay” at the decision to arrest Ahn, saying the move derived from “criminal complaints filed by the North Korean regime.”
That statement, also issued by Lee Wolosky, suggested that he may be extradited to North Korea should he be sent to Spain.
“The last U.S. citizen who fell into the custody of the Kim regime returned home maimed from torture and did not survive,” he said, a reference to the 2017 case of Otto Warmbier, an American tourist who died after returning from 17 months’ captivity in the DPRK.
“We have received no assurances from the U.S. government about the safety and security of the U.S. nationals it is now targeting.”
The DOJ in a statement on Tuesday appeared to seek to quell fears that Ahn might be extradited to the DPRK.
“Pursuant to the U.S./Spain extradition treaty, any person who is ultimately extradited to Spain pursuant to a valid extradition request for alleged crimes committed in Spain will be afforded all due process and other rights typically available to all defendants facing criminal charges in Spain,” an official told NK News.
Despite this, Tuft University’s Lee told NK News, that possibility remained open.
“Although it seems unlikely, one cannot rule it out,” he said. “The risk of injustice and extra-judicial killing by North Koreans increases dramatically once extradition to Spain takes place.”
North Korea last month condemned the raid, calling for Spanish authorities to carry out a full investigation into what they described as the “grave terrorist attack” and “a grave breach of the state sovereignty.”
Featured image: Department of Justice, modified by NK News
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