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Australian man charged with brokering North Korea missile sales

A woman watches a TV screen showing a file footage of North Korea's missile launch, at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. South Korea's military said North Korea fired an unidentified missile Friday from its capital Pyongyang that flew over Japan before landing in the northern Pacific Ocean. The signs read "Japan protests North Korea's missile launch." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

SYDNEY (AP) — A Sydney man has been charged with acting as an agent for North Korea in Australia by allegedly attempting to broker sales worth tens of millions of dollars for Pyongyang that included components used in ballistic missiles.

The Australian Federal Police said Sunday the 59-year-old naturalized Australian used encrypted communication to broker sales and discuss the supply of weapons of mass destruction. His actions contravened both United Nations and Australian sanctions against North Korea, police said.

Police said the man was acting to generate income for Pyongyang by arranging the sale of computer software used for guiding ballistic missiles as well as expertise from North Korea to other "international entities." Police didn't elaborate.

He was also allegedly trying to arrange the transfer of coal from North Korea to Indonesia and Vietnam.

Federal police Assistant Commissioner Neil Gaughan the governments of Indonesia and Vietnam — or authorities in those countries — were not involved.

He's the first person charged under Australia's Weapons of Mass Destruction Act and could face a maximum 10-year prison sentence.

Despite international sanctions, cash-strapped North Korea last month test-fired its most powerful missile that may be able to target the U.S. mainland.

Gaughan said the man was arrested Saturday and charged over two transactions that were unsuccessful. "But we estimate that if these trades were successful, we're talking tens of millions of dollars," he told reporters.

Gaughan said investigations were continuing and that more charges could be filed against the man, who was due to face a bail hearing in Sydney on Sunday.

"The AFP are saying this man was a loyal agent of North Korea, believing he was acting to serve some high patriotic purpose," Gaughan said.

Police started investigating the man after a tip-off from another international agency on another matter, he said.

"I know these charges sound alarming, but we are not suggesting that there are any weapons or missile componentry that came to Australian soil," he said. "We're alleging all of the activity occurred offshore."

The man's activities also involved commodities including oil and gemstones.

"This is black market 101. It's the same with the coal and oil and gemstones — it's all about making money for North Korea," he said, adding the case was "like nothing we have ever seen on Australian soil."

"Any individual who attempts to fly in the face of sanctions cannot and will not go unnoticed in Australia," he said.

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