Seoul spy agency charges former head of NKorea

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea’s spy agency on Wednesday indicted two of its former executives for handling different border events with North Korea in recent years, sparking criticism that Seoul’s former liberal government had improperly reassured North Korea to improve relations.

The National Intelligence Service has accused former director Park Ji-won, who served from 2020 to May, of destroying intelligence reports related to North Korea’s 2020 shooting of an unarmed South Korean citizen in the waters off the western border between the two countries.

The agency also said in a statement that Park Geun-hye’s predecessor, Seo Hoon, forcibly ended an investigation into the repatriation of two North Korean fishermen caught in South Korean waters in 2019.

The two incidents tarnished the legacy of former President Moon Jae-in, who staked his five-year term on inter-Korean engagement but faces charges of appeasing his nuclear-armed adversary with a brutal human rights record. The cases are being reviewed by the government of current conservative President Yoon Suk Yeol, who won a platform for a tougher stance on North Korean provocations in March’s election.

Park and Suh will be charged with multiple charges, including abuse of power, breach of public records and falsification of records, the agency said. It did not immediately detail the last allegation.

In response to an inquiry from The Associated Press, the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office said it planned to assign the cases to the Seoul Central District Prosecutor’s Office for review before a possible investigation.

Park Geun-hye denied that he destroyed internal reports and accused the agency of meddling in politics.

“Don’t write fiction,” he wrote on Facebook.

The killing of a South Korean man who was an employee of the country’s fisheries ministry in 2020 has been a source of division within South Korea. Conservatives have accused the Moon administration of failing to respond strongly to North Korea in hopes of improving relations and have sought to deflect blame on North Korea by suggesting the man had attempted to defect.

Yoon’s government reversed the previous administration’s assessment, saying last month that there was no evidence South Korean officials intended to defect.

Critics say the Moon administration has never clearly explained why it forcibly repatriated two North Korean fugitives to face possible execution in November 2019, just days after they were caught in South Korean waters and expressed a desire to defect. Kim Yeon-chul, Moon’s key North Korea figure, described the men as “brutal criminals” who confessed to the murders and questioned their sincerity in defecting.

Dozens of international organizations, including Human Rights Watch, issued a joint statement accusing the Moon administration of failing to provide due process and “protect anyone who may face torture or other serious human rights violations if returned.”

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