Witness claims regime alerted to his testimony

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Witness claims regime alerted to his testimony

A North Korean defector who testified during a hearing last year in an espionage case submitted a petition to a Seoul court recently claiming his daughter had been blackmailed by the regime because of his statements, and that he suspects someone may have leaked his information to Pyongyang.

The defector, surnamed Han, attended a closed hearing on Dec. 6, 2013, concerning the espionage case involving Korean-Chinese national Yu Wu-seong, who is suspected of spying for Pyongyang in South Korea.

The case goes back to a trial held in August 2013 at the Seoul Central District Court in which Yu was accused of leaking the personal information of approximately 200 defectors living in the South to the North Korean regime. He was later acquitted of the charges because of insufficient evidence.

Han appeared at a hearing in the appeals suit filed by the prosecution and testified on the side of the prosecution about the whereabouts of Yu’s family.

According to the petition, which the National Intelligence Service (NIS) released to reporters on Tuesday, Han was formerly a North Korean spy sent by the regime to South Korea to gather information. He defected to the South in 2003 and eventually obtained citizenship.

Since then, he has been protected under the NIS and guarded around-the-clock by three police officers.

Several defectors who were formerly high-ranking officials in the regime - regarded as “traitors” by the Communist state - have reportedly been threatened by North Korean spies who were able to cross the border into South Korea.

In the petition, Han claimed that on Jan. 6, after the hearing in December, he had a telephone conversation with his 24-year-old daughter living in Hoeryong, North Korea, who told him that she had been threatened by local authorities over his testimony.

She reportedly told him that on Jan. 3, several officials from the Ministry of State Security, the regime’s top spy agency, visited her while she was working and took her in for questioning to the anti-espionage office in the ministry’s local branch in Hoeryong.

“They told me, ‘If your father commits an act against his homeland [North Korea], we will punish all your family members and relatives.’ They sent me home after blackmailing me,” Han quoted his daughter as saying.

Han said he believes someone leaked reports of his testimony to Pyongyang after the closed-door hearing, which was attended by just a few people: the judges, the prosecutors and Yu’s two attorneys.

“After giving my testimony, my identity was revealed [to North Korea],” Han said in the petition. “And my daughter was dragged into the spy agency for questioning.”

“I have tried to conceal my identity, changing my name and ID number in South Korea and using a mobile phone under a borrowed name,” he said. “It is [suspicious] that North Korea’s State Security Ministry knew I changed my name and attended the hearing, and then questioned my daughter.”

He appealed to the South Korean court to find the person responsible for leaking that information to Pyongyang.

Currently, the NIS believes Yu’s camp may have leaked Han’s information to the regime, though Yu’s attorneys have both denied that allegation.

The Seoul Central District Court, in charge of the appeals suit, acknowledged that it was difficult to confirm Han’s suspicions and said it doesn’t plan to ask the prosecution to investigate Han’s petition.

Even so, the Seoul police are currently focusing on one of Yu’s two attorneys, Jang Gyeong-wuk, who is already suspected of having contact with Pyongyang officials during a business trip to Germany in November.

Jang allegedly praised the Communist regime during those encounters, a direct violation of the National Security Law, which led authorities to believe he may have been responsible for leaking Han’s information.

Meanwhile, the police yesterday called Yu in for questioning after a civic group of North Korean defectors claimed Yu’s attorneys used a fabricated immigration record in his appeals case.

BY JUNG HYO-SIK, KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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