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Ex-spy chief slams Yoon over top Moon aide’s arrest

Dec. 5, 2022 - 15:33 By Kim Arin
Ex-NIS head Park Jie-won speaks during a press conference on Oct. 27. (The Korea Herald)

Park Jie-won, a former head of the National Intelligence Service under investigation over an alleged cover-up in North Korea’s killing of South Korean fisheries official Lee Dae-jun in 2020, told The Korea Herald the Yoon Suk-yeol administration was playing the communist card against his predecessor Moon Jae-in.

“All I’m going to say is that the Yoon administration is cracking down on the Democratic Party by portraying Moon as a communist sympathizer,” he said over the phone. He said that the ongoing investigation was a “political retaliation” against the former president.

His remarks came after Suh Hoon, the first NIS director appointed during the Moon administration who later went on to become the national security advisor at Cheong Wa Dae, was arrested Saturday.

Suh is suspected of ordering officials to delete records related to Lee’s death, and then to portray him as having tried to defect to North Korea in public announcements. The court, issuing the arrest warrant, explained that the criminal suspicions facing him were “grave” and that based on his relations with other key suspects, he was “feared to tamper with evidence.”

Park said that he stands by the conclusion reached during the preceding administration that the slain fisheries official was a defector.

“I still trust the conclusions by the Defense Ministry and the Coast Guard that he willfully defected to North Korea,” he said. “There is no evidence that he didn’t defect to North Korea, is there?”

He had said in an earlier press briefing, however, that he does not recall the special intelligence reports discussed in the very first high-level meetings suggesting the fisheries official was defecting to North Korea.

Asked what his input was in those meetings, he explained that it was “not really apt” for him to weigh in as the director of the NIS. “That’s the law,” he said.

Park is speculated to be next in line to be subpoenaed in the investigation. On that prospect, he said, “Well if I am subpoenaed, then I will respond.”

In a Facebook post late Sunday that Park wrote that hoped for Yoon’s “magnanimous decision” on Suh’s arrest.

Suh is “not a politician. He is a true expert. He didn’t do anything criminal,” he said in the post. “He is an asset to the Yoon administration, to the US government, and to North Korean authorities. Such loss is against the national interest.”

When asked by The Korea Herald more specifically what kind of decision he was hoping for from the president, he didn’t elaborate, saying “a magnanimous decision is a magnanimous decision.”

“I hope the court will grant him bail,” he added. Seo Wook, who was then minister of national defense, was released on bail of 100 million won ($77,400) last month after being arrested earlier.

Moon said in a Facebook statement following Suh’s arrest that the former national security adviser was “top North Korea negotiator in the Kim Dae-jung, Roh Moo-hyun and Moon Jae-in administrations.”

“In negotiations with North Korea, as well as with the US, building trust is the best strategy, and trust isn’t earned in a day. It’s hard to find someone like Suh Hoon, who with his experience and expertise is an asset to us. An asset of trust,” he said.

“It’s a shame that such an asset has been undermined.”

In response to Moon’s statement, Kim Ki-yun, a lawyer representing Lee’s family, said it was unclear whether Suh was in negotiations with North Korea to save the late fisheries official.

“Then what was the government doing while one of its employees drifted into North Korean waters, and was held captive by North Korean soldiers? This has been the question haunting the family,” he said. “Was Suh, being the top negotiator as the former president says, speaking with North Korean authorities during the hours he would have been alive?”