South Korea arrests former top officials for 2020 murder

SEOUL – South Korea’s former defense minister and coast guard chief were arrested on Saturday near the rivals’ tense maritime border for their alleged involvement in covering up facts and falsifying the circumstances of North Korea’s killing of a South Korean fisheries official in 2020.

The arrests came as conservative President Yoon Suk Yeol’s government expanded investigations into the 2020 killing and another border incident the year before, prompting criticism that Seoul’s previous liberal government had unduly placated the North in order to tie ties with to enhance.

The Seoul Central District Court said it granted prosecutors’ motions for arrest warrants against former Defense Minister Suh Wook and former Coast Guard Commissioner General Kim Hong-hee because it considered them threats to destroy evidence or flee. The opposition Liberal Democratic Party, which claims the investigation was fueled by Yoon’s political vendetta against his predecessor, Moon Jae-in, initially did not comment on the arrests.

The Seoul Central District Attorney’s Office had investigated Suh and Kim for alleged abuse of power and forgery of documents related to the 2020 case. Suh faces an additional charge of record destruction.

Last week, South Korea’s Audit and Inspection Committee asked prosecutors to investigate 20 people, including Suh and Kim, for allegedly covering up key facts related to the 2020 case.

The agency said its investigation into the Moon government’s handling of the killing found officials made no meaningful attempt to rescue 47-year-old fisheries official Lee Dae-jun after learning he was in nearby waters of the disputed west of Koreas drift sea border.

After it was confirmed that Lee had been fatally shot by North Korean forces, officials publicly played up the possibility that he had attempted to defect to North Korea, citing his gambling debts and family problems while withholding evidence suggesting that he had no such intention, the agency said.

According to the agency’s report, Suh, headed by Moon’s National Security Bureau, ordered an official to delete about 60 military intelligence reports related to the incident because the government delayed a public announcement of Lee’s death while it debated how to do so should explain to the public. The agency also said the Coast Guard under Kim manipulated the results of simulations of Lee’s drift to support claims he attempted to defect.

Suh and Kim did not answer reporters’ questions about the allegations Friday when they appeared in court hours apart to review prosecutors’ warrant applications. Lee Rae-jin, the late Lee’s brother, protested in court and demanded that Suh and Kim be arrested. He was restrained by court security staff as he attempted to approach Suh when he arrived for screening.

In June, weeks after Yoon took office, the Yoon government’s Defense Ministry and Coast Guard refuted the Moon government’s description of the incident, saying there was no evidence that Lee attempted to defect.

In July, the National Intelligence Service indicted two of its former directors during Moon’s administration on similar charges, including abuse of power, destruction of public records and falsification of documents.

Yoon’s government is also investigating the forced repatriation of two North Korean fishermen in 2019, despite alleged plans to relocate to South Korea.

Critics say Moon’s government has never provided a clear explanation as to why it sent the two fugitives back north to face possible execution. Kim Yeon-chul, Moon’s North Korea contact, described the men who confessed to the murder as “terrible criminals” and questioned the sincerity of their desire to defect.

Dozens of international organizations, including Human Rights Watch, issued a joint statement accusing the Moon government of failing to provide due process and “to protect anyone who may be at significant risk of torture or torture after repatriation.” would be subject to other serious violations of human rights”.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission. South Korea arrests former top officials for 2020 murder

Sarah Y. Kim

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