Korea’s state audit agency requests investigation of 20 officials in fisheries official case
The state audit agency requested the prosecution investigate 20 people, including top security officials of the previous Moon Jae-in administration, on charges of covering up and distorting facts in the killing of a South Korean fisheries official by North Korean soldiers in 2020.
Yet the reason as to why the government did not take any measures to rescue the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries official, Lee Dae-jun, until after he was shot and killed remains unresolved.
The Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) requested the prosecution investigate 20 people from five government agencies involved in the case, on charges including dereliction of duty, abuse of power and falsifying documents.
Among those to be investigated are former National Security Adviser Suh Hoon, former National Intelligence Service Chief Park Jie-won and former Defense Minister Suh Wook.
The BAI accused the authorities of failing to take necessary steps in the initial hours of the case.
According to the BAI, neither the National Security Office (NSO), the Ministry of National Defense, the Ministry of Unification, nor the Coast Guard convened a situation assessment meeting, which is a meeting to determine the direction of crisis response, or took measures to rescue Lee even after learning that the official had been found in North Korean waters.
Lee disappeared while on duty just south of Yeonpyeong Island near the Northern Limit Line (NLL), which serves as the de facto inter-Korean maritime boundary in the Yellow Sea on Sept. 22, 2020. The next day, North Korean soldiers found Lee, fatally shot him and burned his body for fear of Covid-19, according to South Korean defense officials.
In addition, former national security adviser Suh left work to go home while the incident was still developing, and the director of the Unification Ministry at the time also went home without reporting the case to the minister, the BAI said.
The agency failed to unravel the mystery of what actually happened during the three hours from when the case was first reported to the president until Lee was shot dead.
According to the BAI, Moon received a written report from Suh Hoon, former NSO director, that Lee was detected by the North at 6:36 p.m. on Sept. 22. Then the NSO director and other top officials went home at around 7:30 p.m., and, two hours later, Lee was shot dead and burned by North Korean soldiers. At the time, North Korea warned that it would kill border intruders over fears of Covid-19 spreading.
During those three hours, there was no evidence of Moon ordering any government agencies to perform rescue operations: a problem that still remains unsolved as Moon refused to comply with BAI’s written investigation.
The BAI also said, after finding out that Lee was killed, that government agencies, including the Security Office, manipulated or deleted documents related to their crisis management.
The BAI concluded that then-Defense Minister Suh ordered the deletion of 60 military intelligence reports after a meeting of related ministers held early on Sept. 23, the day after Lee’s death. It added that the National Intelligence Service deleted 46 pieces of data, including intelligence reports, the same day.
The state auditor said that Lee was not voluntarily defecting to North Korea.
The Coast Guard, in particular, was said to have distorted the actual results of an experiment that would have raised the plausibility of Lee naturally drifting across the border, and to have cut-and-pasted opinions from experts in criminal psychology in such a way as to back up their faulty claims.
The BAI judged that the government agencies all readily suggested the voluntary defection of Lee despite insufficient evidence, due to the Blue House National Security Office’s nudge to paint a negative picture of Lee.
The BAI also questioned the Defense Ministry’s changed position regarding the incineration of Lee’s body, which the ministry most recently said “needs further investigation.” According to the results of the BAI’s inspection, former President Moon reprimanded the ministry after it issued a statement about Lee’s incineration, saying the statement was “too conclusive.” In other words, the Defense Ministry had said that it was uncertain despite actually knowing that the body had already been burned.
The BAI distributed the results of its inspection through a 20-page press release last Thursday.
The BAI conducted audits through various channels, but failed to conduct investigations into some key officials.
It demanded an attendance of the key officials including the former National Security Adviser and former National Intelligence Service chief, but they all refused. Moon expressed displeasure at the board’s attempts for a written investigation, calling them “rude.”
BY SEO JI-EUN [email@example.com]