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Ex-intel chief deleted records to conceal North Korean murder of South Korean: prosecutors

Jan. 13, 2023 - 18:02 By Kim Arin
Park Jie-won, the former director of the National Intelligence Service, speaks to reporters outside the Seoul central district prosecutors’ office on Dec. 14, 2020. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)

The former head of the National Intelligence Service of Korea, Park Jie-won, ordered the deletion of all intelligence reports on North Korean troops killing South Korean government official Lee Dae-jun on Sept. 22, 2020 at sea, according to an indictment submitted to the National Assembly on Thursday.

Park “had officials at the National Intelligence Service delete intelligence reports related to Lee Dae-jun’s case, which is not part of their duty,” and “destroyed records from the public agency,” Seoul prosecutors wrote in the indictment.

The indictment said at Park’s order, 51 intelligence reports were deleted from the NIS server in the immediate aftermath of the death of the South Korea’s Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries official, Lee.

At around 9:55 a.m. on Sept. 23, 2020 -- the morning after Lee was captured and then killed by North Korean troops -- Park as head of the NIS ordered officials to “expunge all intelligence reports on the case as soon as possible,” according to the indictment.

The indictment said Park colluded with then-national security adviser at Moon Jae-in’s Cheong Wa Dae Suh Hoon and then-Minister of National Defense, Seo Wook, to cover up the North Korean murder of the South Korean official.

From around 4 p.m. on Sept. 22, 2020, Park was aware South Korea’s Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries official, Lee, had been discovered in North Korean waters after going missing near the inter-Korean maritime border the day prior.

Around the same time on the same day, Suh also knew about North Korean authorities finding Lee in their territorial sea. Suh left work at around 7 p.m. however without taking measures to repatriate the official. A few hours later at around 9:40 p.m. Lee was fatally shot and then burned.

After learning Lee was killed, Park shared it with Suh at around 11:20 p.m. through a phone call, and Cheong Wa Dae convened an emergency meeting of national security and intelligence officials at 1 a.m. on Sept. 23, 2020.

Suh told Cheong Wa Dae staff to keep the killing of Lee discreet over concerns that it would lead to public criticism of Moon’s North Korea appeasement, the indictment said. Moon was also due to give his pre-taped address to the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly in the early hours of Sept. 23, 2020, in which the then-president called for declaring the Korean War over.

At around 2:30 a.m. Sept. 23, 2020, after the emergency meeting at Cheong Wa Dae, Seo likewise ordered Defense Ministry officials to “retrieve and destroy all records on the killing” and “maintain the highest degree of confidentiality and security.”

Park, alongside Suh and Seo, were indicted last month over his role in the cover-up of this North Korean killing.

Appearing at the Seoul prosecutors’ office on Dec. 14, 2022, Park denied all allegations raised against him, saying he “had never deleted, or ordered the deletion of any records” from the spy agency while serving as its director.