Defector got job with city to do spying, claims NIS

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Defector got job with city to do spying, claims NIS

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A North Korean defector working for the Seoul city government was arrested on suspicion of leaking personal information about other defectors to Pyongyang’s spy agency.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government said yesterday that the National Intelligence Service arrested a 33-year-old North Korean defector surnamed Yu on Jan. 11 on suspicion of giving Pyongyang information on some 10,000 fellow defectors living in Seoul.

“The arrested official was prohibited from accessing information about non-officials,” Lee Chang-hak, a spokesman for the Seoul city government, said at a briefing yesterday. “He was allowed access to very limited information on city government officials only, such as their names, positions and telephone numbers.”

According to the NIS and the prosecution, the information Yu allegedly leaked included names of defectors, how they are living in the capital region and Seoul’s welfare system for defectors.

Although numerous North Korean spies have tried penetrating South Korea disguised as defectors, it was the first time that a defector-turned-official was arrested for espionage.

A source familiar with North Korean affairs told the JoongAng Ilbo yesterday that the NIS is also questioning two or three officials suspected of helping Yu. According to the South’s intelligence agency and the prosecution, Yu was a surgeon in North Korea. He fled to South Korea on his own in 2004, and told NIS interrogators that he “realized the irony of the North Korean regime when he visited China to do some smuggling.”

Yu studied social welfare at a graduate school in the South and got a job at a trading company. His family reportedly remains in the North.

In 2011, Yu applied for a two-year-term contract job at the Seoul Metropolitan Government. The position was in the realm of supporting fellow defectors living in the city, according to the city government. Since then, he has worked for the government.

“He made door-to-door visits to houses of North Korean defectors,” a South Korean government official told the JoongAng Ilbo. “So in that position, he could basically learn every single detail about the life of a North Korean defector in the South.”

The NIS said Yu visited North Korea via China several times since he came to the South. Yu is denying the allegations.


By Kim Hee-jin, Lee Young-jong [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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