World

US man built deadly secret tunnels over N. Korea fear

WASHINGTON A US millionaire is to appear in court on Friday after being charged with the murder of a man recruited to build tunnels at his home near the US capital for protection against North Korea, reports say.

Daniel Beckwitt, a conspiracy theorist and millionaire stock trader, has posted a US$100,000 (S$133,000) bond and will be released from detention on Monday morning, WRC-TV said.

Beckwitt, 27, is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in connection with the death in September 2017 of Askia Khafra, 21.

Mr Khafra died when a fire broke out in the basement as he dug a tunnel under the home where Beckwitt lived in Bethesda, Maryland, a Washington suburb.

Beckwitt is "an unusual individual," his lawyer Robert Bonsib told the court last week when a grand jury indicted the millionaire, The Washington Post reported.

Beckwitt, set to appear in court on June 8, sought to "create a secure bunker because of his concern about international tensions, North Korea, intercontinental ballistic missiles," Mr Bonsib said.

WRC-TV showed earlier footage of what it said was Beckwitt - his identity hidden under a shiny gold outfit and hood resembling a firefighter's protective suit - addressing a computer hacking convention.

Beckwitt spoke of "legislative creepings by our misguided government towards the Orwellian tyranny... powered by signals intelligence".

Mr Khafra reportedly met Beckwitt through social media and was told "if he digs in this tunnel, day and night, and sleeps in this tunnel, and eats in this tunnel, and goes to the bathroom in buckets in this tunnel, he will be compensated financially so he can start his dream company," Montgomery County assistant state's attorney Doug Wink told court, according to WJLA-TV.

The prosecution alleged that piles of junk in the house and basement, as well as a "daisy-chain" of power cords in the tunnels, made the project unsafe.

WORLD