Prosecutors raid NIS over spy evidence fabrication

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Prosecutors raid NIS over spy evidence fabrication

The prosecution raided the headquarters of the National Intelligence Service, the nation’s top spy agency, which has been shaken up by an unprecedented scandal involving allegations that its agents fabricated key evidence in a case to charge a North Korean defector for espionage against the South.

It is highly unusual for the prosecution to storm the spy agency, the most reclusive and secretive organization in the country.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office sent its prosecutors and investigators to the NIS building located in Naegok-dong, southern Seoul.

President Park Geun-hye has pledged a thorough investigation into the accusations that the National Intelligence Service fabricated key evidence in the espionage case, which has led to more questions over its credibility.

In her first official comment on the scandal, Park said that the case was “a very regrettable thing.”

“The prosecution should thoroughly investigate this case without leaving a single question unanswered, and the National Intelligence Service should be fully cooperative with the prosecution’s investigation,” she said at a meeting yesterday with her chief presidential secretaries at the Blue House. “If problems are revealed through the investigation, we will definitely fix them.”

Her strong will to resolve the case comes while the opposition Democratic Party is ramping up its attack on the spy agency ahead of the upcoming June 4 local elections.

The largest opposition party has long called for the NIS to be reformed, claiming the agency was involved in an online smear campaign during the 2012 presidential race that favored Park and disparaged her Democratic rival Moon Jae-in.

Democratic Chairman Kim Han-gill ratcheted up his criticisms of the NIS, arguing that the top spy agency should forfeit its exclusive right to investigate espionage cases, particularly when it comes to cracking down on North Korean spies.

Because the two Koreas are technically at war as the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty, the NIS has kept the exclusive right to launch a probe into all espionage cases involving North Korean spies against the South.

“The NIS’s right to investigate North Korean espionage should be transferred to the prosecution or police,” Kim said yesterday at a party meeting.

The opposition leader also urged the president to punish those in charge of the case at the spy agency.

“If the president wants to show her sincerity in expressing her regret, she should punish someone in the NIS,” Kim said.

Jun Byung-hun, the floor leader of the DP, bluntly called for the resignation of NIS Chief Nam Jae-joon.

“Under the rule of NIS Chief Nam Jae-joon, the NIS is full of abnormalities,” Jun said at the meeting. “Regardless of the outcome of the prosecution’s investigation, Nam should take responsibility [for the scandal] and step down.”

The ruling party, however, brushed off the idea that the DP was trying to rally public criticism against the president ahead of the June elections.

“The focus of this case is basically whether the suspect is a spy or not,” Chung Woo-taik, a senior lawmaker of the Saenuri, said at a party meeting.

“The DP and the New Political Vision Party [the faction led by independent lawmaker Ahn Cheol-soo] are attempting to raise their support by using the case for their political gains,” he added.

In the meantime, the prosecution yesterday found that the NIS could have been aware that the documents had been fabricated before they were provided to the prosecution.

Sources in the prosecution tipped off reporters yesterday that Lee In-cheol, the NIS agent who worked at the Korean Consulate General in Shenyang, China, obtained both the original immigration records and the fabricated records of Yu Wu-seong, a North Korean defector who is accused of espionage. Lee, however, authorized both documents and provided them to the prosecution, and the prosecution then submitted the fake evidence to the court, those sources said.

The Chinese Embassy in Seoul has confirmed that all three of the documents the NIS provided to the prosecution were fabricated: the entry and exit record of the suspect between North Korea and China, and two confirmation letters for those records.

BY KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]



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