Man born in North Korea gets prison in military goggle case
A man born in North Korea was sentenced Thursday to more than three years in federal prison after pleading guilty in an attempt to export night-vision goggles to China.
Song Il Kim, 42, was arrested in Hawaii after a monthslong online sting operation conducted by Utah-based Homeland Security Agents. Prosecutors say Kim gave an undercover agent $16,000 during a meeting at a Waikiki hotel, then packed up three pairs of goggles up with the agent’s help. The box was labeled it as used toys and towels to be sent to China and sold, according to the charges.
Prosecutors say the equipment could have made it to North Korea from there if agents hadn’t intercepted it, though defense attorney Scott Williams denies that, saying Kim no longer has any ties there.
U.S. District Judge Dee Benson said Thursday that Kim appears to be a family man, citing letters from family members who miss him. Kim has been behind bars since his July arrest in Honolulu.
The investigation started after a federal agent responded to an ad Kim placed on a business-to-business website.
Kim was interested spending a total of $22,000 to buy two types of goggles, one designed to be mounted to a helmet or gun and used with one eye, and the other meant to be worn over both eyes, charges state. Similar goggles are available at retail stores, Williams said.
But both are designed for the U.S. military, and it is illegal to export them without State Department authorization, prosecutors said. He was also interested in a thermal imaging weapon sight, according to court paperwork.
The U.S. has an arms embargo with China, and it denies export licenses to North Korea.
Kim, who is also known as Kim Song Il, holds a Cambodian passport and lives in China, according to court records. An agent involved in the investigation provided his visa to enter the U.S., Williams said.
Kim pleaded guilty to violating the Arms Export Control Act by exporting the equipment without a license, court records show. That law regulates shipping of military equipment, guns, explosives and other devices. Prosecutors dropped a smuggling charge in exchange.