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Five accused in plot to import North Korean drugs into U.S

By Ellen Wulfhorst

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Five men have been arrested and accused of trying to smuggle methamphetamine from North Korea into the United States, authorities said on Wednesday.

The arrests came after two of the men agreed to sell 100 kilograms of the illegal drug earlier this year to confidential sources working with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, according to federal prosecutors.

The other three agreed to store, guard and move the meth after it arrived in Thailand from the Philippines.

Two of the men, one a Chinese citizen and the other from the Philippines, are allegedly members of a Hong Kong-based crime ring and came to the attention of authorities last year for selling meth from North Korea, according to the federal indictment.

That shipment was seized by law enforcement agents in Thailand and the Philippines and was tested as being more than 99 percent pure, prosecutors said. The accused men planned to transport the drug to the United States by boat.

"This investigation continued to highlight the emergence of North Korea as a significant source of methamphetamine in the global drug trade," DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart said in a statement issued by the U.S. Attorney's office in New York.

A report published by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting in 2011 said methamphetamine produced in North Korea typically is shipped to China.

One of the accused claimed the North Korean government had destroyed several meth labs and that his organization was the only one currently able to obtain the drug from the reclusive Communist nation, the indictment said.

Another said he belonged to an armed motorcycle gang that was to guard the drug in Thailand, according to the indictment.

All five face charges of conspiracy to import methamphetamine into the United States. If convicted, they each face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.

They were arrested in Thailand in September and extradited to the United States on Tuesday, prosecutors said.

Besides U.S. authorities, the bust involved authorities in Thailand, Liberia and Romania and also Interpol, prosecutors said.

(Editing by Gunna Dickson)

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