A Korean-American aid worker working in a Chinese city near North Korea has been arrested on charges of embezzlement and possession of fake invoices, his lawyer said Friday, in a sign that authorities are increasingly sensitive about activities by foreigners in the border region.
Shanghai-based lawyer Zhang Peihong said he was notified by prosecutors in China’s northeastern Yanbian prefecture of the arrest of Peter Hahn, a 74-year-old Christian who ran a vocational school for Chinese and Korean youth for more than a decade in the border town of Tumen.
The charges appear to be an excuse to incriminate the man, who also had provided food to North Korean children, Zhang said.
It was unclear whether Hahn was targeted because of his religious beliefs, although his aid work was inspired by his Christian faith, Zhang said.
“I am not optimistic about the case’s prospects now that he has been arrested,” the lawyer said. “The charges clearly have no merit.”
No trial date has been set, Zhang said.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the U.S. Embassy did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Earlier this year, authorities detained a Canadian Christian couple, Kevin and Julia Garratt, who had lived in Dandong, another Chinese town bordering North Korea, for suspected theft of military and intelligence information. Their current status is unclear.
Hahn was born in North Korea but is a naturalized U.S. citizen. After he retired as a social worker in Los Angeles County, he moved to Tumen in hopes of helping North Koreans, according to a 2005 profile of him in the Los Angeles Times.
He ran two bakeries inside North Korea that made rolls for schoolchildren, and his Tumen River Vocational School trained abandoned teenagers in trades such as baking, according to the profile.
Hahn also set up a factory in the North Korean city of Rajin where he made soybean paste, it said.