The Korea Herald


[Editorial] Time to answer

Audit finds circumstances of moves to frame Lee as defector to N. Korea

By Korea Herald

Published : Oct. 17, 2022 - 05:30

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The results of an inspection by the Board of Audit and Inspection into the incident in which a South Korean was killed by North Korean soldiers in the West Sea are shocking.

The government didn't even attempt to rescue Lee Dae-jun, an employee of the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, after knowing that he was found in the North Korean naval territory.

The Korea Coast Guard received a report 51 minutes past noon on Sept. 21, 2020, that he went missing from a ministry fishery guidance ship.

On Sept. 22, a day after the missing report, the National Security Office of Cheong Wa Dae was notified at 5:18 p.m. that he was found in the North Korean sea. At 6:36 p.m., National Security Director Suh Hoon made a written report to President Moon Jae-in that North Korea found Lee, and got off work as usual.

The board failed to find out whether Moon read the written report and what instructions he made if he did. Its findings were based on accessible data and interviews. It found no instructions from Moon regarding the written report.

At 9:40 p.m., three hours after the written report, Lee was shot dead in the sea and his body was burned up immediately by North Korean soldiers on a patrol boat.

The National Security Office was notified of Lee’s death at around 10 p.m. Suh presided over a meeting of related ministers at 1 a.m. on Sept. 23, and reported to Moon face-to-face at 8:30 a.m. that Lee was killed by North Korean soldiers.

A meeting of related ministers was called at 10 a.m., where Suh presented grounds for evidence of Lee's voluntary defection to the North, such as slippers found on the ministry boat and a life vest that he wore. Moon did not attend the meeting.

Why did Suh present such grounds at the meeting? What did Moon say during their face-to-face meeting? The board failed to find out the answers.

The Coast Guard reported the incident as an accidental fall from the ship, but the nature of the incident was changed into Lee's voluntary defection to North Korea.

Meanwhile, at around 3 a.m., after the 1 a.m. meeting, Minister of National Defense Suh Wook and Director of National Intelligence Service Park Jie-won ordered the deletion of related intelligence reports. The ministry and the service destroyed 60 and 46 reports, respectively.

The National Defense Ministry received a report that Chinese letters were written on the life vest Lee wore but lied that it was one of the Korean life jackets on the ministry ship. No change was found in the number of life vests on the ship.

After receiving the report on Chinese letters on the life vest from an investigation team, the Coast Guard commissioner general told the team that he would pretend he had not seen the report.

The government announced that the slippers on the ship seemed to belong to Lee, but failed to provide evidence that they were his.

The Coast Guard disregarded the results of an experiment showing that Lee drifted naturally to the North.

All of the related agencies acted in cahoots to show Lee defected voluntarily to North Korea, and lied or destroyed evidence.

Moon promised Lee's bereaved family he would take particular care to reveal the whole truth, but archived all of the reports on him and his instructions as presidential records, which are sealed for 15 years.

Separately from the board, the prosecution has investigated the incident since June after accusations by Lee's family and the National Intelligence Service.

Based on the board's inspection results, the prosecution must accelerate efforts to get to the bottom of Lee's death. To do so, it must not hesitate to investigate former President Moon.

Moon rejected the board's notice of sending him a questionnaire, calling it "very rude." Korea is not a kingdom. Nobody is above the law. It is the president's responsibility to clarify suspicions over the case of a South Korean killed by North Korean soldiers. People want to know what efforts he made to rescue Lee. It’s time for him to answer. And the prosecution must clarify why he did so.