North Korea says an American man it detained last month was intercepted because he was attempting to commit “hostile criminal acts with an aim to subvert the country”.
The Korean Central News Agency said Tony Kim, also known as Kim Sang Dok, was “intercepted” at Pyongyang’s airport on 22 April as he tried to leave the country. He is the third US citizen being held in the isolated country.
The latest information about Kim’s detention came amid rising tensions on the Korean peninsula, driven by concerns that the North might conduct its sixth nuclear test in defiance of US pressure and UN sanctions.
The US is negotiating with China, North Korea’s sole major ally, about a stronger UN security council response, although Washington has also reiterated that all options for dealing with the North remain on the table.
North Korea, which has been criticised for its human rights record, has previously used detained Americans to extract high-profile visits from the US, with which it has no formal diplomatic relations.
Korean Central News Agency said on Wednesday Kim had taught an accounting course in Pyongyang. “Invited to Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) to teach accounting as a professor, he was intercepted for committing criminal acts of hostility aimed to overturn the DPRK not only in the past but also during his last stay before interception,” it said, using the country’s official name of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Law enforcement officials were investigating Kim’s alleged crime, it said.
Kim, who also goes by his English name, Tony Kim, and is in his 50s, was detained at Pyongyang airport as he attempted to leave the country, the university’s chancellor had said previously.
PUST said it did not believe Kim’s detention was related to his work at the university. A spokesman, who asked not to be identified, said Kim’s wife, who was with him when he was arrested, had since returned to the US.
“Mrs Kim left the DPRK and is now back in the USA with family and friends,” he said. “We certainly hope for a positive resolution as soon as possible.”
The other two Americans held in North Korea are Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old student, and Kim Dong-chul, 62, a Korean-American missionary.
Warmbier was detained in January 2016 and sentenced to 15 years hard labour for attempting to steal a propaganda banner. Two months later, Kim Dong-chul was sentenced to 10 years hard labour for subversion. Neither has appeared in public since their sentencing.