NIS agents set to be questioned

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NIS agents set to be questioned

The prosecution is accelerating its investigation into the National Intelligence Service’s alleged fabrication of key evidence in an espionage case against a North Korean defector and is preparing to call in agents this week for questioning, according to officials.

So far, several agents from the nation’s top spy agency have been prohibited from traveling overseas following accusations that they may have fabricated the immigration records of a North Korean defector, Yu Wu-seong, who is suspected of spying on South Korea for the Communist state. Prosecutors said they are in the process of selecting which agents to summon.

The case drew more attention when a 61-year-old ethnic Korean who claimed he played a role in obtaining the false documents attempted suicide on Wednesday.

The man, identified only as Kim, said he received and gave the fabricated record to the NIS and that he worked as an outsourced broker in China for the agency. According to prosecutors, he wrote in his suicide note that the NIS owed him 10 million won ($9,423) for his cooperation.

The focus of the prosecution’s probe now is whether the NIS agents who received the fake documents were aware that they had been fabricated.

The immigration records showed that Yu visited North Korea via China twice, although he only admitted to the first trip, saying he was attending his mother’s funeral in North Korea.

The prosecution suspects Yu may have visited the Communist state twice and that during his second trip he was ordered by North Korean officials to divulge the personal information of other defectors living in South Korea. So far, the NIS has maintained that its agents did not know the documents were fake and were not involved in the fabrication.

The prosecution told reporters yesterday that the NIS agents to be summoned will include those working in the Korean Consulate General in Shenyang, China. Kim will also be called in once he recovers.

There’s some speculation that the prosecution could plan an unprecedented raid of the spy agency, the country’s most reclusive organization, for its investigation. “We will use every possible, compulsory method for the investigation under the agreement of the NIS chief,” a prosecution official said.

If the prosecution is delayed in its probe, however, it could likely be accused of protecting the spy agency, especially as opposition politicians yesterday demanded the launch of a special counsel probe into the case.

But for now, all eyes have been focused on Kim, the local broker. Given his claims that he had been paid by the NIS for his activities, the broker could likely have been a support agent (SA), who plays an important role in obtaining documents for the spy agency.

“If his argument - that he received about 3 million won per month from the NIS - is true, we can say he is an SA,” an expert in North Korean affairs told the JoongAng Ilbo on the condition of anonymity.

Sources say it is risky for the spy agency to use such a broker, as a support agent could easily betray the agency or pose a threat to the NIS itself.

A South Korean government official said the case illustrates how much the NIS lost in terms of its own human intelligence after a reduction in the number of spy agents for North Korean affairs under the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations.

Because of that, the NIS was forced to rely on outsourced brokers in China or North Korean defectors, the official said. “When it comes to those defectors or Chinese brokers, they have their own business or families in North Korea, so they could be used instead by the North Korean regime or China,” the official added.

BY KIM HEE-JIN, LEE YOUNG-JONG [heejin@joongang.co.kr]



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