The allegations of document forgery in an espionage case are putting Seoul in an increasingly difficult position as the case has taken on explosive political overtones and could potentially cause diplomatic friction with China.
Stepping up its offensive against the government and prosecution, the Democratic Party said it would submit a resolution calling for a parliamentary inquiry into the case to the National Assembly’s committee on foreign affairs and unification.
The main opposition party has also demanded that an independent counsel should open a probe into the allegations that the prosecution submitted fabricated Chinese documents to a Seoul appellate court to press espionage charges against a former Seoul City official.
After a lower court cleared the charges against the defendant, Yoo Woo-seong, last August, the prosecution handed in immigration records and other documents from Chinese authorities to the court.
The documents are supposed to bolster the prosecution’s charge that Yoo, a North Korean defector, had made his last trip between North Korea and China for alleged spying activities in 2006.
But the Chinese Embassy in Seoul has called the documents “fabricated,” sparking political criticism that investigators appeared to be trying to manipulate court proceedings in the same way that the past dictatorial regimes did.
Seoul officials said those documents were issued by the security authorities in the northeastern Chinese city of Helong and obtained through legitimate diplomatic channels.
But they have taken an unusually ambivalent stance, arguing that the authenticity of the documents should be confirmed after a thorough investigation into the case is carried out.
Some China experts raised the possibility that the Chinese authorities have rendered the documents fabricated as the Korean government secured them through unofficial provincial routes, which could be Seoul’s clandestine intelligence-gathering channels.
They said that Beijing does not recognize secretly obtained documents as legitimate because it regards the unauthorized handover of any internal materials to a foreign country as espionage.
“There are many cases in which Chinese officials, who handed over secret classified or security-related documents to a foreign country without permission from the higher authorities, are branded as spies,” a China expert told local media on Thursday.
“Thus, provincial authorities might not be able to tell the truth to the central government.”
Some observers said that the Chinese Embassy might have evaluated the court documents as false in a move to express Beijing’s growing discontent over Seoul’s intelligence activities in China.
The main opposition party’s political offensive against the government is expected to escalate in the coming months as it gears up to win in the local elections in June.
The DP has berated the government for undermining the authority of the judiciary through apparently false accusations against the North Korean defector, while the ruling Saenuri Party denounced the DP for “siding with” the alleged North Korean spy.
By Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org)