Verdict in defector spy case upheld

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Verdict in defector spy case upheld

A local appellate court on Friday upheld the acquittal of a North Korean defector suspected of espionage by ruling inadmissible almost all the evidence submitted by the prosecution and National Intelligence Service (NIS) disfavoring him.

The verdict by the Seoul High Court, delivered at a delicate time on the peninsula when inter-Korean tensions have drastically escalated following a series of provocations by Pyongyang, have raised serious doubts over the credibility of the interrogation tactics used by authorities on defectors.

Reiterating the lower court’s decision from September 2014, the judge pointed out that law enforcement authorities had botched interrogation procedures by failing to properly read the defendant, surnamed Hong, 43, his Miranda rights.

On some occasions, Hong was stripped of his right to an attorney or to remain silent, the judge said, adding that there were no visual records to prove the authenticity of most of the evidence presented by local authorities.

The court also acknowledged as invalid documents written by Hong that were presented by prosecutors to be proof that the defendant had admitted to the espionage charges.

According to the ruling, Hong appeared to have been tricked by the NIS into writing the admission, swayed by a false promise by the intelligence agency that it would bring his remaining family in North Korea to the South.

Hong said last week that he had been “endlessly deceived” by authorities and naive enough to believe he could be transported to Hanawon, the state-run resettlement center for defectors, if he admitted to the charges.

The case dates back to Aug. 16, 2013, when Hong arrived at Incheon International Airport from Thailand. A former broker in North Korea who helped others defect, he was questioned for two weeks by the NIS and subsequently put into solitary confinement for 84 days on suspicions that he was a spy working for the North Korean regime.

Up until his indictment in March 2014, he was interrogated 12 different times by the NIS and eight times by the prosecution. Prosecutors slapped Hong with a barrage of charges and accused him of pretending to defect in an attempt to collect state secrets under the order of North Korean Army’s Defense Security Command.

BY IM JANG-HYUK, LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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