New York - Five foreigners face charges in the United States of plotting to smuggle 100kg of highly potent methamphetamine produced in North Korea.
The men were arrested in Thailand in September and brought to New York on Tuesday. All pleaded not guilty to conspiracy charges on Wednesday. A judge ordered them held without bail until their next court date on 5 December.
Two defendants were members of a Hong Kong-based criminal organisation that marketed meth produced in North Korea, US authorities said. The others, two citizens of Great Britain and a resident of Thailand agreed to store and transport the drugs, they said.
The case demonstrates "the emergence of North Korea as a significant source of methamphetamine in the global drug trade," DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart said in a statement.
According to court papers, the suppliers sold more than 30kg of North Korean meth in 2012 that was seized by authorities in Thailand and in the Philippines. The meth tested more than 99% pure, the papers said.
1 ton of meth
In 2013, the suppliers agreed to provide 100kg to confidential sources working with the US Drug Enforcement Administration who claimed there was a market for it New York City, the papers said. One of the defendants bragged that the organisation was the only one able to get meth from North Korea after pressure by the United States prompted a government crackdown on production there.
The North Korean government "already burned all the labs. Only our labs are not closed," the defendant said during a meeting with the fake buyers, according to court papers.
The United States in the past has accused North Korea of trafficking meth. The defendant claimed to have stockpiled 1 ton of meth because of the diplomatic tensions.
After the meeting, the suppliers sent two samples to the United States that tested 96 and 98% pure, the papers said. They agreed to deliver the drugs to Thailand, where they were to be stashed in a boat and smuggled into the United States.
Authorities in Thailand described the men as accomplices of Joseph Hunter, a former US soldier who was arrested on the same day as the others in Thailand and who pleaded not guilty in September to charges in New York that he was a contract killer. Top DEA officials confirmed the connection but declined to give any details.