This page is also available in: עברית (Hebrew)

June 30, 2015

Shurat Hadin on Tuesday requested that Mexico permit it to seize an impounded North Korean ship to satisfy a $330 million US judgment it won against Pyongyang in April in a civil damages trial for wrongful killing of a Christian priest.

Mexico impounded the 6,700 ton North Korean ship,Mu Du Bong, for illegal weapons smuggling on its way from Cuba to North Korea following notification by UN sanctions monitors that the ship belonged to a blacklisted shipping firm.

The Israeli NGO hired Mexican lawyer Alberto Mansur to request that Mexico honor and enforce the US judgment as part of its obligations to honor foreign judgments under the Hague Convention.

The April judgment, which also included findings by a US federal court in Washington DC that North Korea had kidnapped and tortured South Korean-American Rev. Kim Dong Shik prior to killing him, included $15 m. each to Shik’s son and brother as well as $300 m. in punitive damages.

Dong-Shik, a South Korean who was a permanent resident of the US and had spent seven years providing aid and proselytizing to North Korean defectors who tried to escape to China, was abducted in 2000.

A 2005 South Korean court convicted an ethnic Korean of his abduction in concert with North Korean intelligence.

Shurat Hadin said that it hoped that the context of the requested seizure, the North Korean outlaw regime ignoring illegal weapons smuggling laws and flaunting UN resolutions, would help its case since it tied into Pyongyang’s massive human rights violations in abducting and murdering innocent persons, which was at the heart of the Shik judgment.

The judgment was a default judgment in which the defendant, North Korea, did not even appear at trial, leading most to predict that it would go unenforced since default judgments are notoriously hard to collect on, especially with a regime like North Korea, which has few connections to the West.

After the April judgment, a statement from Shurat Hadin said that the family was investigating all the possible avenues to collect the judgment against North Korean assets including seizing bank accounts, property and shares in foreign companies in the United States and abroad.

But even Shurat Hadin admitted that Mexico’s seizure of the ship was a potentially shocking gift and unexpected opportunity to collect on the judgment.

The NGO’s President Nitsana Darshan-Leitner said that, “North Korea should know that we are actively tracking its assets and looking to seize them everywhere in the world. This outlaw regime must be taught that it cannot abduct and murder foreign citizens and that eventually there will be a price to pay.” “There is no reason why this boat which clearly belongs to North Korea cannot be used to satisfy our judgment,” she said.

In the April judgment against North Korea, the court said that the two $15 m. and the $300 m. damages awards were consistent with comparable cases against North Korea and Iran for other similar wrongful actions and recognized the tremendous suffering by Dong Shik’s family members.

In December 2014, Shurat Hadin convinced a US federal appeals court to grant default judgment against North Korea on liability, paving the way for April’s massive damages award by the lower district court.

The ruling by the US Appeals Court for the District of Columbia, written by Judge David S. Tatel, reversed an earlier US District Court ruling which had dismissed the case, despite North Korea failing to defend itself, on the grounds that the plaintiffs had failed to present any direct evidence of what happened to Dong Shik.

The appeals court ruling had based its ruling against North Korea on proof that Pyongyang kidnapped Kim, a wealth of information about it torturing and killing prisoners, its systematic attempts to block direct evidence from emerging and North Korea’s failure to counter the plaintiffs’ claims.

The ruling was also significant because it allowed a case to go forward based on the “terrorism exception” to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which somewhat broadens the paths and precedents open to suing foreign nations for terrorist acts.