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No espionage involved in Shanghai scandal

Official: Lack of discipline caused extramarital affairs, information leak


South Korea concluded Friday that the recent sex scandal involving several of its officials in Shanghai and a young Chinese woman was not a case of espionage, avoiding diplomatic fallout with China which has been closely monitoring the investigations.

Several officials, including former Consul General Kim Jung-ki, underwent government investigation over allegations they leaked confidential state information to a married Chinese woman while working in Shanghai.

Deng Xinming, the 33-year-old housewife at the center of the scandal, disappeared from the public eye after news broke earlier this month, also avoiding a probe by the Seoul investigation team which had been in Shanghai last week.

“We recognize this case as an incident caused by serious indiscipline of officials at overseas missions, which led to leakage of some state information, illegal visa issuances and inappropriate relationships,” Kim Seok-min, deputy minister of Seoul’s Prime Minister’s Office, said in a news briefing.

Officials had made the mistake of conducting “anomalous diplomacy relying on unofficial and inappropriate sources” such as the accused Chinese woman and were found to have had inappropriate relationships at hotels in China, Kim said, adding that more than 10 related officials will be punished.

Deng appears to have approached the Korean officials mainly for help with visa issuances. About 19 state documents did leak via the Shanghai mission, but none of them are considered information that calls for legal action, the Prime Minister’s Office said.

Korean officials at the Shanghai mission were initially suspected of passing classified government files to Deng, which were said to include contact information of some 200 high-ranking Korean officials and the schedule of President Lee Myung-bak.

When the scandal was first reported earlier this month, some speculated that Deng was an A-class spy hired by her government, citing her wealth and way of dealing with men.

The Chinese government expressed regrets about Seoul turning the incident into a spy case, its main newspaper warning of negative effects on Seoul-Beijing ties unless the case was “quietly dealt with” in an editorial.

After the government investigation results were made public, the Foreign Ministry said it would “sternly deal” with the officials involved, including former consular chief Kim.

The ministry also said it would conduct stricter inspection of its officials at overseas missions and recall anyone with disciplinary problems.

The latest scandal was unveiled shortly after the Foreign Ministry announced a set of reform measures to overcome a nepotism scandal that led to the resignation of its minister, dealing another blow to the ministry often considered an organization of elites.

By Shin Hae-in (hayney@heraldcorp.com)
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