Blue House bigwigs deny evidence fiddling in 2020 murder at sea
Top security officials from the Moon Jae-in administration denied deleting documents and mishandling the murder of a South Korean fisheries official by North Korea soldiers in September 2020.
Former National Intelligence Service (NIS) Director Park Jie-won, former Blue House National Security Office (NSO) Director Suh Hoon and former Blue House Chief of Staff Noh Young-min held a press conference hosted by the Democratic Party (DP) at the National Assembly to reject the Yoon Suk-yeol government’s allegations that they tampered with evidence to tarnish the murdered official as a defector.
They insisted that circumstantial evidence at the time, based on their analysis of intelligence, supported the idea that fisheries official Lee Dae-jun had intended to defect to North Korea.
“I have never received any orders from the president, the Blue House, or the NSO to delete information, nor have I ever instructed NIS staffers to delete information,” said Park. “Even if I had given such instructions, NIS officials wouldn’t have been stupid enough to follow them.”
Park has been accused by prosecutors of ordering the deletion of dozens of intelligence reports related to the incident.
On Sept. 23, 2020, North Korean soldiers fatally shot 47-year-old Lee, who had disappeared while on duty south of Yeonpyeong Island near the Northern Limit Line (NLL) in the Yellow Sea the previous day, and burned his body. The NLL serves as the de facto inter-Korean maritime border.
South Korean military officials said that the North burned Lee’s body over fear of Covid-19 and initially concluded that Lee had been “voluntarily defecting” to the North to escape a gambling debt.
However, the Defense Ministry and Coast Guard admitted in a press conference last June — after a change in administrations in May — that there was actually no evidence to support the idea that Lee had been trying to defect.
“At that time, we disclosed the whole situation in a transparent manner,” said Suh in the press conference Thursday. “We never tried to push for a defection angle without any basis, and there was no reason or benefit in doing so.”
He also said there had been “no order to delete data,” saying it was “unimaginable to try to manipulate the life and honor of a citizen without any basis.”
Suh stressed that the military, Coast Guard, NIS, NSO and Ministry of Unification “all fulfilled their responsibilities without bias.”
His remarks contradicted the results of a two-month investigation into the case by the Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) released on Oct. 13 that concluded that Suh had ordered government agencies to assert that Lee had been attempting to defect to the North despite insufficient evidence. The BAI asked the prosecution to investigate 20 people, including the top security officials of the Moon government, on allegations of covering up and distorting facts related to Lee’s death.
“The Blue House is not the agency that produces intelligence, but is where information and intelligence were reported to,” said Noh. “To my knowledge, media reports alleging that the Blue House gave instructions to intelligence agencies to delete or tamper with information are not true at all.”
The top Moon government officials issued a joint press statement, also signed by former Unification Minister Lee In-young and former Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong, which addressed each of the allegations of data deletion and a cover-up in more detail.
This was the first time Moon’s security aides spoke up jointly in public on the issue.
They stood by the claim that special intelligence, or SI, contained information expressing Lee’s “willingness to defect to North Korea.”
They accused the Yoon government of “political retaliation against the former government by making an issue out of security-related matters” and” ignoring the substantive truth by distorting and tailoring” the case.
Last week, former Defense Minister Suh Wook and former Coast Guard Commissioner General Kim Hong-hee were arrested over charges of abuse of power and deleting and tampering with information related to Lee’s death.
People Power Party (PPP) Rep. Ha Tae-kyung, who is head of a PPP task force on the fisheries official’s murder, criticized the press conference in a Facebook post Thursday as “a cruel act attacking the honor of the deceased and his family.”
BY SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]