Arrest warrants requested for bigwigs in 2020 murder at sea case
Prosecutors Tuesday requested arrest warrants for a former defense minister and former chief of the Korea Coast Guard for allegedly impeding an investigation into the murder of a South Korean fisheries official by North Korean soldiers in the Yellow Sea in 2020.
Their application to detain former Defense Minister Suh Wook and former Coast Guard Commissioner General Kim Hong-hee came a day after the Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) issued a report that concluded the Moon Jae-in administration tampered with evidence in the case, wrapping up a months-long probe into the Defense Ministry, National Intelligence Service (NIS) and the Korea Coast Guard.
Relatives of Lee Dae-jun, a fisheries official who was fatally shot and burned by North Korean soldiers in the Yellow Sea a day after disappearing from duty near Yeonpyeong Island in September 2020, filed a criminal complaint in June against the two Moon administration officials and others for their alleged role in framing the incident as a botched defection attempt.
Prosecutors believe that Suh deleted military intelligence reports based on surveillance of North Korean communications that suggested Lee did not intend to defect.
According to a military official who spoke to the JoongAng Ilbo on condition of anonymity in July, a South Korean surveillance unit intercepted a total of seven hours of communications between the North Koreans detailing Lee’s capture and gruesome death, but the original intercepts were deleted around the same time all military secrets contained in the Military Information Management System (MIMS) were taken offline.
The 40 intelligence files disappeared from MIMS after two National Security Council meetings at the Blue House at 1 a.m. and 10 a.m. on Sept. 23, 2020, the day after Lee’s murder.
At the time of Lee’s death, authorities in Seoul said North Korean soldiers burned his corpse out of fear of Covid-19 infection.
Suh is also alleged to have directed Defense Ministry officials to fabricate information in a report for the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).
Kim is suspected by prosecutors of directing the Coast Guard to issue a finding based on false information shortly after Lee’s murder that he was trying to defect North to escape a large gambling debt.
But in June, shortly after President Yoon Suk-yeol took office, the agency disavowed its own earlier finding at a joint press conference with the Defense Ministry. Both said they had, in fact, found no evidence that Lee intended to defect at the time of his disappearance.
Both Lee and Kim have denied prosecutors’ allegations during questioning, according to prosecution service officials who spoke to the JoongAng Ilbo on condition of anonymity.
The BAI has also requested that the state prosecution service investigate 20 people, including high-ranking intelligence and security officials who served in the Moon administration, on suspicion of suppressing or fabricating information in the case.
Those people include Suh Hoon, a former director of the Blue House National Security Office, and Park Jie-won, who served as NIS director from 2020 to 2022.
The NIS has already filed a criminal complaint against Park for allegedly deleting intelligence reports on the killing without authorization.
BY MICHAEL LEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]