N Korean ambassador in Geneva recalled over smuggling allegations: Report

Han Tae Song was previously expelled from Zimbabwe in 1992 for engaging in rhino horn trafficking.
By Taejun Kang for RFA
2023.12.07
Taipei, Taiwan
N Korean ambassador in Geneva recalled over smuggling allegations: Report North Korea's ambassador to the United Nations Han Tae Song attends the Conference of Disarmament at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Feb. 27, 2018.
Denis Balibouse/Reuters

North Korea has decided to recall its ambassador to Switzerland, Han Tae Song, amidst claims he is involved in elephant tusk smuggling. 

Both the panel of experts of the U.N. Security Council Sanctions Committee on North Korea and Swiss officials are investigating the ambassador’s purported involvement in ivory trafficking in Africa, according to Japan’s Kyodo News on Thursday.

It is anticipated that Han will be replaced within this year, with North Korean authorities possibly holding him accountable for being exposed, it added. 

Appointed as ambassador to Switzerland in 2017, Han also represents North Korea at the United Nations in Geneva. Notably, he was previously expelled from Zimbabwe in 1992 for engaging in rhino horn trafficking.

The news came after a report that Botswana, along with South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique, had been probing this North Korean-affiliated ivory and rhino horn smuggling operation for over a year.

The ring is accused of pilfering at least 19 elephant tusks and 18 rhino horns from Botswana on two occasions last year and this year, and then channeling them through South Africa and Zimbabwe to Mozambican buyers linked to North Korea, Weekend Post reported on Sep. 26. 

The report added that the investigation discovered two buyers from North Korea were central to a major smuggling operation involving wildlife products. One of these individuals, Yi Kang Dae, confirmed as an intelligence official in North Korea’s state security, collaborated with Ambassador Han. 

The paper cited a security source in Zimbabwe as saying there is a big chance that Han may have revived the old smuggling network he ran while posted in the country in the 90s.

“The biting international sanctions against North Korea in the past decade may have prompted Han to reawaken his network which has been dormant for some time,” said the source, as quoted by Weekend Post. 

The source added that it was uncertain whether the illicit network has been dismantled, as Han’s two key operatives remain at large in Mozambique, urging “joint vigilance” to “destroy the operation at the source and at the end of the line.”

Edited by Mike Firn.

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