Five foreigners were charged in the United States on Wednesday with plotting to smuggle 100 kilograms of highly potent methamphetamine that was produced in North Korea.
The men were arrested in Thailand in a sting operation in September and brought to New York on Tuesday night. All pleaded not guilty to conspiracy charges on Wednesday before a judge ordered them held without bail until their next court date on Dec. 5.
Two defendants were members of a Hong Kong-based criminal organization that marketed meth produced in North Korea, U.S. authorities said. The others — two citizens of Great Britain and a resident of Thailand — agreed to store and transport the drugs, they said.
According to court papers, the suppliers sold more than 30 kilograms of North Korean meth in 2012 that was seized by authorities in Thailand and in the Philippines. The meth tested more than 99 percent pure, the papers said.
In 2013, the suppliers agreed to provide 100 kilograms to confidential sources working with the Drug Enforcement Administration who claimed there was a ready market for it New York City, the papers said. One of the defendants bragged that the organization 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. "To show the Americans that they are not selling it anymore, they burned it."
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 percent 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.
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.
Authorities in Thailand described the men as accomplices of Joseph Hunter, a former American 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.
An indictment alleged that Hunter, also known as "Rambo," recruited a group of ex-snipers to be a security team for drug traffickers.
Associated Press writer Alicia Caldwell in Washington contributed to this report.