Home International North Korea Sentences American Businessman to 10 Years of Hard Labor

North Korea Sentences American Businessman to 10 Years of Hard Labor

Kim Dong-Chul, center, a U.S. citizen detained in North Korea, is escorted to his trial Friday in Pyongyang, North Korea

Seoul, April 29, 2016: North Korea sentenced a second U.S. citizen, Korean-American businessman Kim Dong-chul, to 10 years of hard labor on charges of spying and stealing state secrets, upping the ante with the U.S. ahead of a rare ruling party congress.

The sentencing of Mr. Kim comes six weeks after authorities ordered Otto Warmbier, a 21-year-old University of Virginia undergraduate, to serve 15 years of hard labor after allegedly trying to steal a propaganda poster from his Pyongyang hotel during a tour.

The sentences are likely to increase tension between Washington and Pyongyang ahead of a closely watched ruling party congress that begins next Friday in North Korea—the first such meeting in 36 years.

The U.S. and its allies in the region have been watching North Korea closely for signs of a potential nuclear test or missile launch to burnish leader Kim Jong Un’s credentials ahead of the event. On Thursday, South Korea’s government said that Pyongyang twice tried, and failed, to launch a new ballistic missile.

The sentencing of Mr. Kim, 62 years old, came after a trial on Friday in North Korea’s Supreme Court, during which prosecutors sought a 15-year hard labor sentence, according to Pyongyang’s official Korea Central News Agency.

Mr. Kim’s lawyer pleaded for leniency, citing his age and saying that he might “repent of his faults,” the report said.

Last month, North Korean state media accused the Virginia resident of obtaining classified documents about North Korea’s nuclear and military plans, at the behest of U.S. and South Korean intelligence.

In a purported interview with KCNA published in March, Mr. Kim admitted to trying to “‘remove’ the supreme leadership of the DPRK and ‘bring down its social system,’” using the acronym for North Korea’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The KCNA account also accuses Mr. Kim, who allegedly went by the code name “Northeastern Tiger,” of having tried to track down Lim Hyeon-soo, a Korean-Canadian pastor who last December was handed a life sentence of hard labor for committing “anti-DPRK religious activities.”

The U.S. State Department hasn’t confirmed Mr. Kim’s case, citing privacy concerns, but Mr. Kim presented what appeared to be his U.S. passport during a CNN interview arranged by North Korea in January.

According to North Korea’s official media, Mr. Kim was born in Seoul before immigrating to the U.S. in the early 1970s. Mr. Kim moved to the border region between China and North Korea in 2005 to set up a trade company, KCNA reported, adding that he has been detained since October.