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Ex-security chief hid North Korea killing South Korean to shield Moon: prosecutors

Killing at sea coincides with then-president’s UN address calling for end-of-war declaration

Jan. 11, 2023 - 18:17 By Kim Arin
Former Moon Jae-in officials accused of covering up North Korea killing speak at press conference held Oct. 27 last year at the National Assembly. From left: former Cheong Wa Dae national security director Suh Hoon, former presidential chief of staff Noh Young-min, former National Intelligence Service chief Park Jie-won. (The Korea Herald)

Suh Hoon, an ex-national security and intelligence chief, ordered the cover-up of the killing of a South Korean official by North Korean troops at sea in 2020 over concerns the incident would prompt criticism of then-President Moon Jae-in, according to an indictment Seoul prosecutors submitted to the National Assembly.

Seoul prosecutors said in the indictment written Dec. 9 that while Suh was the top national security adviser at Cheong Wa Dae, he told staff to keep the death of the official discreet, saying it could lead to criticism of the then-president Moon and his North Korea policy.

More specifically, prosecutors outlined the following as the main reasons behind Suh’s decision to conceal the official’s death from public knowledge.

There was concern at Cheong Wa Dae national security office that Moon’s appeasement policy on North Korea would come under scrutiny if the official’s death became known, the indictment said.

Just three hours after the official was killed, Moon was also due to give an address at the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly, in which the then-president would call for declaring an end to the Korean War. Moon making a repeated call for declaring the Korean War over would bode poorly in the wake of what North Korea had done to a South Korean government official.

According to findings by prosecutors and state auditors, Moon was first briefed about the official having been seized by North Korea at 6:36 p.m. Sept. 22, 2020, more than a day after he was reported missing near the inter-Korean sea border. Then just hours later at around 9:40 p.m. the official was killed.

It wasn’t until the morning after the killing on Sept. 23 that the president was briefed about his death. His UN address about the end-of-war declaration took place in the early hours of Sept. 23.

Prosecutors said in the indictment that Suh had an administrative staffer delete developments following the killing in the draft of a brief to Moon, and ordered not to include them in briefs to the president.

“North Korea shot dead the missing fisheries ministry official and burned his body. This is going to have a very bad impact on the relations between South and North Korea,” Suh was cited as telling Cheong Wa Dae aides.

At a Cheong Wa Dae national security office meeting held after intelligence authorities confirmed North Korea’s killing of the official, Suh’s call for covering it up was met by some opposition from aides, the indictment said. Some of the aides present at the meeting raised concerns that it would be “impossible to keep the incident from public.” They were not heeded.

The court acceded the prosecutors’ request to arrest Suh on Dec. 3. Then on Dec. 9 prosecutors indicted him based on the accusations.

Alongside Suh, other top officials including then-National Intelligence Service chief Park Jie-won and then-Minister of National Defense Seo Wook were indicted late last year over their roles in the alleged cover-up.

Suh requested bail on Dec. 23, just 20 days after he was arrested. On Wednesday, the Seoul court opened a session deliberating his request for bail.

The late official’s family submitted a written petition earlier this week asking the court to dismiss the former national security adviser’s request for bail.

“Suh, as the head of the Cheong Wa Dae national security office, spearheaded the last administration’s cover-up of the South Korean official’s murder by North Korean soldiers,” the petition read.

“It’s clear from emerging evidence that rather than taking immediate steps to repatriate the employee of the South Korean government, he was only invested in covering up North Korea’s horrible crime. After everything he’d done, he cannot walk free.”