Spy chiefs under a microscope

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Spy chiefs under a microscope

After the National Intelligence Service (NIS) filed criminal complaints against two of its former chiefs — Park Ji-won and Suh Hoon — for obscuring what happened during the murder in 2020 of a South Korean fisheries official by North Korean navy and the repatriation of two North Korean defectors in 2019, the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office launched investigations of the incidents. Park is accused of removing an intelligence report about the murder and Suh is accused of forcibly ending a joint investigation of the two defectors before returning them to the North.

On September 21, 2020, a South Korean fisheries official went missing while on duty near Yeonpyeong Islands in the Yellow Sea and then was shot to death and burned by North Korean sailors. For six hours until the discovery of his whereabouts, the Moon Jae-in administration didn’t do anything to save his life and then defined it as a case of attempted defection.

In the second, equally tragic incident, the two North Koreans expressed an intention to defect after crossing the maritime border in the East Sea on November 2, 2019, but the Moon administration sent them home citing a “lack of sincerity to defect.” At that time, the Moon administration was trying to reactivate inter-Korean dialogue after the disastrous summit in Hanoi nine months earlier. The Moon administration is being criticized for abandoning its duty to protect people’s lives to curry favor with Pyongyang.

The NIS says that former director Park deleted a wiretapped conversation between the South Korean fisheries official and North Korean navy, including the official’s request for a rescue at sea. The other NIS chief, Suh Hoon, allegedly ordered investigators to speedily finish a joint interrogation of the defectors — which usually takes up to a few months — and delivered a message to North Korea that he would hand them over.

Park denied the charge, saying, “Why would I do such a stupid thing, as any original intelligence remains in the main server?” He attributed the claims to a number of NIS agents who were demoted after the launch of the Moon administration and returned to their posts after conservative President Yoon Suk-yeol took office in May. Park knows the truth more than anybody else, as he attended all National Security Council meetings and received a personal letter of apology for the murder from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

On Thursday, an official from the presidential office said it’s paying keen attention to the cases, as they apparently constitute grave crimes committed by a state. The prosecution must get to the bottom of the suspicions if South Korea is to advance further.
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