Pakistan has apologized to North Korea for raiding the North Korean Embassy in a bizarre diplomatic row involving rogue cops and allegedly illicit booze.
The embassy on Tuesday accused Islamabad police of breaking into its premises and threatening intervening diplomatic staff with guns. Local media reported that police in the Pakistani capital acted on a tip that the mission was keeping a “huge quantity of liquor.”
Alcohol is off-limits to Pakistan’s Muslim population but diplomats are allowed to buy it in certain amounts. The allegation of North Korean stockpiling of booze echoes earlier suspicions that some diplomats were secretly selling alcohol in the lucrative black market to funnel funds to cash-strapped Pyongyang, after a 2017 robbery accidentally revealed that a North Korean diplomat in Islamabad held thousands of bottles of whisky, beer and French wine.
In a letter protesting the Monday raid, the North Korean mission said seven police officers entered the embassy through a back gate without its consent to search a storeroom in the backyard. The officers threatened diplomatic staff with guns when they tried to stop the search, the letter said.
“It is assumed that this is a plot and a conspiracy by the police… and external forces who have a wicked intention to interfere in the friendly and fraternal relations of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Pakistan,” the letter stated.
Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid on Thursday apologised for the incident and called it a “misunderstanding.”
“It should have not happened,” Rashid told reporters in a news conference. “It is not our job to monitor what is going and coming out from there [Embassy]. Our job is to provide security to embassies. This was a mistake, we apologise.”
The Pakistani foreign office said it was a violation of diplomatic protocol and vowed not to repeat it.
Accusations of a North Korean bootlegging operation in the country emerged in 2017 after North Korean diplomat Hyon Ki Yong reported a burglary at his private residence and the theft of a trove of alcoholic drinks worth $150,000.
The “robbers” turned out to be policemen who had broken into the diplomat’s house and tried to keep the stash of booze for themselves.
Although the officers were arrested, senior Pakistani police and customs officials told Reuters that the large collection of alcohol led them to conclude that some North Korean diplomats are involved in illegal sales of liquor. North Korean diplomats in the country were involved in at least 10 cases of such trade from 2009 to 2016, Voice of America has reported, using their diplomatic immunity to profit for either themselves or Pyongyang.
Embassies and diplomatic missions are considered as sovereign states of the country they represent and their premises are deemed inviolable under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
Pakistani officials said that police involved in the raid this week did not have the authority to enter embassies without their permission.
The officer who led the search, Tipu Sultan, is being disciplined by Pakistani police for misconduct. He initially claimed he conducted the raid with a search warrant and later said he was unaware that the house was an embassy. Sultan did not respond to requests for comment.
Pakistan and North Korea have maintained diplomatic ties since the 1970s and have cooperated on the development of ballistic missile and nuclear weapons. The sanctions on North Korea for its nuclear program have stripped it of foreign currency incomes and stunted its economy, but the Kim Jong Un regime has continued to test intercontinental ballistic missiles and new hypersonic gliders capable of dropping nukes on continental United States.
Abdul Basit, former Pakistani diplomat to Germany and India, said the incident would not have major repercussions on relations between the two countries.
“Now that the Foreign Office has regretted and apologised I don’t think North Korea would pursue the matter further,” Basit told VICE World News.
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