by JAMES S. KIM
A Korean American aid worker was arrested by Chinese authorities on Tuesday on suspicion of embezzlement and possession of fraudulent receipts, reports the New York Times.
Peter Hahn, a 73-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen who escaped from North Korea many years ago, was detained on Tuesday in Tumen City, a trading town near the North Korean border in northeastern China. He ran a Christian aid agency that included a local school and also provided supplies to North Korean poor.
Other aid projects in his Tumen River Area Development Initiative included building fertilizer factories, food processing factories and fishing boat repair services in North Korea, along with 26 shuttle buses. His bakery also provided soy milk and bread for orphanages.
Authorities reportedly called Hahn in for questioning, then placed under detention after a six-hour interrogation. Hahn’s lawyer, Zhang Peihong, said that the charges were “groundless” and “impossible to stand up.”
The arrest follows a crackdown on Christian and other Western aid groups and NGOs along the North Korean border in recent months. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has not offered a reason behind them.
Authorities began investigating Hahn in April, asking him about his life and humanitarian work, according to his lawyer. Hahn’s wife, Eunice, said that in July, police closed their vocational training school and froze their bank accounts, then confiscated their vehicles, computer, books and photos. She has since moved to Seoul for safety reasons.
At the time, Hahn was told he was being investigated for “embezzlement, proselytizing and providing aid illegally to North Korean defectors,” allegations he denied, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. Since August, two more of Hahn’s colleagues, one Korean and one Chinese, have been detained.
Hahn’s wife and lawyer were both concerned about his health. He has suffered a number of strokes and was on medication before the arrest.
Kevin and Julie Garrat, a Canadian Christian couple who ran a cafe in Dandong, were also detained in July and accused of espionage and theft of state secrets about China’s military and national defense research. The New York Times said Peter’s Coffee Shop served as a “beacon of information for adventurous travelers” and Christians, as well as those looking for Western food. Kevin Garrat, a former pastor, would often converse with the travelers about North Korea.
The Hong Kong Economic Journal notes it is unusual for foreigners to be charged with violating the Chinese states secrets law. It is punishable by life in prison or death in the most severe cases.
Top photo courtesy of Hong Kong Economic Journal