July 2, 2019 / 11:56 PM / 18 days ago

Judge rules ex-Marine accused of invading North Korean mission in Madrid could be freed

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A former U.S. Marine accused of participating in a robbery at the North Korean embassy in Madrid is eligible for release from custody, a federal judge in Los Angeles ruled on Tuesday, even as the man faces possible extradition to Spain.

Former U.S. Marine Christopher Philip Ahn is allegedly shown in a still photo from a surveillance camera standing in front of the North Korea embassy in Madrid, Spain, February 22, 2019. U.S. Attorney's Office Central District of California/Handout via REUTERS

The order from Magistrate Judge Jean Rosenbluth, of U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, still leaves open the possibility that Christopher Ahn, an American citizen, could be sent to Spain to face charges in connection with the Feb. 22 invasion of the North Korean mission.

U.S. agents arrested Ahn, 38, on April 18 in Los Angeles, and his attorneys have sought his release from custody since then.

Rosenbluth in a seven-page ruling said Ahn could be released in lieu of $1 million bond, with the understanding that three people close to him could face criminal prosecution if he fails to appear in court.

Spanish authorities have charged Ahn with being among a group of seven intruders from several countries who stormed the North Korean mission on Feb. 22, restrained and beat some embassy personnel, held them hostage for hours, and then fled.

The intruders removed computers, computer drives and a mobile phone from the embassy, according to U.S. court documents.

Evidence against Ahn came largely from accounts of embassy officials of North Korea, and the United States lacks formal relations with North Korea, Rosenbluth wrote.

NOT YET FREE

Rosenbluth stopped short of ordering Ahn’s immediate release. She asked U.S. officials to appear at a future court hearing, which has not been scheduled, to discuss final arrangements.

“We don’t have any specific comment on today’s ruling, other than to point out that we objected to the request” for Ahn’s release, Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office, said in an email.

Ahn continues to pose a flight risk and would be motivated to flee because he faces death threats, prosecutors said in court papers filed last week.

Spanish investigators identified the embassy intruders as self-professed members of a group that called itself Cheollima Civil Defense, which also goes by the name Free Joseon, and sought the overthrow of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The alleged ringleader of the raid, Adrian Hong, is a Mexican citizen and a longtime U.S. resident and activist. He remains at large. Hong traveled to the United States after the raid and met with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, presenting material taken from the embassy, according to U.S. court documents.

Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Additional reporting by Jonathan Landay in Washington; editing by Bill Tarrant and Leslie Adler

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