Don’t save an apology for the family

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Don’t save an apology for the family

Kang Joo-an
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Political disputes are heating up after the Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) attempted to investigate former President Moon Jae-in’s role in the murder of a fisheries official in the Yellow Sea in 2020. Moon called the attempt “disrespectful.” His comment may also contain anger at Choi Jae-hae, the BAI head whom he appointed. The controversy ended as the government watchdog decided not to conduct a written investigation. However, as the case has not been looked into for more than two years, a probe is clearly needed.

After the Yoon Suk-yeol administration began in May, the nature of the incident began to be revealed little by little. There is no sufficient basis for the Moon administration’s claim that Lee Dae-joon, the fisheries official, was trying to defect to North Korea. Then how did he come to be labeled a defector after being killed by the North Korean navy? A report presented to Moon likely holds the key. It can be assumed from the book “Presidential Reports” published by aids to former president Roh Moo-hyun. The book, compiled by former South Gyeongsang governor and speech planning secretary Kim Kyoung-soo and others, contains the principles of writing a Blue House report in times of contingency.

The situation and information report is clearly distinguished from other reports as it emphasizes speed, accuracy and conciseness. Lee, the fisheries official, was killed around 9:40 p.m. on Sept. 22, but the report to the president was made at 8:30 a.m. the following day. That violates the reporting guideline of speed as specified in the book.

The most notable part of the presidential report is its conclusion, which includes assessment, countermeasures and other considerations. The key is how the conclusion was reached after the murder of Lee. If you trace the way the government responded after the presidential report, the nature of the case will naturally be revealed.

It is the family of Lee that has been demanding the truth. After losing their loved one, they had to endure the government’s stigmatization of him as a defector. After Lee was killed and his body burned by North Korean soldiers at sea, his name could not be identified at first due to the stigma. This is in sharp contrast to the case of Park Wang-ja, a South Korean tourist who received many people’s condolences after she was shot to death by North Korean soldiers in 2008 at the Mt. Kumgang resort.

Kwon Young-mi, Lee’s wife, had to fight hard to restore her husband’s honor while making a living. Throughout the last administration, she was hurt by sarcastic comments by high-level officials. Lee’s family is still criticized on the Internet.

Her daughter, a third grader, didn’t know about her father’s death until May. As she didn’t want to tell her about the government announcement that her father had been killed while defecting to North Korea, she lied that he had gone to New Zealand to work. She was tormented whenever the daughter wanted to hear the voice of her father. After 20 months, she finally told her daughter that Lee died after falling into the sea while working for the country, and the daughter cried a lot.

Why did the government conclude that Lee had defected to North Korea over gambling debts? His wife claims that the government wanted to say that her husband caused the incident. Such arguments have been made. A Democratic Party (DP) lawmaker posted on Facebook that as defection is a serious anti-state crime, one could be killed by making continued attempts at defection. In September 2013, during the Park Geun-hye administration, a civilian attempted to defect to the North and was killed by the South Korean soldiers on the DMZ. The DP lawmaker wrote that it’s common sense that nothing can be done when one crosses the border and goes beyond the boundary of our sovereignty.

Shortly after the outrageous atrocity by North Korea, Moon reemphasized exchanges with the country. His approval ratings also rose. But a long and painful time began for Lee’s family. A funeral ceremony for Lee was finally held on September 22, two years after his death.

Political disputes will continue after the prosecution investigates the case. As those involved in the case during the previous administration certainly would not want it to be prolonged, they must apologize to Lee’s family sincerely. That is a starting point to end the controversy.
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