Ahn cleared of robbery charge in Madrid embassy raid case
Christopher Ahn, one of the participants in the 2019 activist raid on the North Korean embassy in Madrid, was cleared on Wednesday in Los Angeles of the charge of committing robbery in relation to his extradition case.
Judge Jean Rosenbluth of the United States District Court for the Central District of California dismissed the charge of aggravated robbery against Ahn, saying that federal prosecutors had not provided evidence that Ahn had committed the crime as defined in the statute books, which states the motive of private or personal gain must be proven to apply the charge.
Ahn’s possible rendition to Spain now hinges on the remaining charges, which include unlawful entry, illegal detention, willful bodily harm and membership in a criminal organization.
The dismissal of the aggravated robbery charge in Ahn’s extradition case significantly reduces any potential sentence he might receive in a Spanish court if he were to be extradited. While aggravated robbery carries a minimum sentence of two years and up to five years under Spanish law, the remaining charges only entail imprisonment of up to a year if proven.
Judge Rosenbluth added that the court would examine whether there was an exemption on humanitarian grounds available in the case, and if it might be appropriate to apply it to Ahn’s extradition.
Spanish prosecutors have asked the United States to hand Ahn over for his role in the Feb. 22, 2019, raid on the North Korean embassy in Madrid. Ahn is the only member of the group who conducted the raid, which calls itself the Free Joseon movement, to have been arrested to date.
In their extradition request, Spanish authorities said Ahn, along with others of the group, violently assaulted and physically restrained embassy staff and family members, including a child, using “knives, machetes, iron bars, imitation handguns, shackles and cables.”
However, lawyers representing Christopher Ahn wrote a letter to the court in February saying he and the other assailants undertook the raid at the behest of at least one North Korean diplomat who had contacted the group beforehand.
At an earlier extradition hearing on May 25, Ahn’s counsel Naeum Rim argued that, once in Spain, Ahn could be at risk of assassination or abduction by Pyongyang, which maintains diplomatic relations with Madrid. She also pointed out the Spanish authorities have not clarified what level of protection Ahn would receive on Spanish soil.
In an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo on the day of his hearing, Ahn said his primary motive in participating in Free Joseon’s activities was to help people who he said requested assistance. He also said his life would be in danger if he were forced to stand trial in Spain, which maintains diplomatic relations with North Korea.
BY MICHAEL LEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]