Suh Hoon, former director of the National Security Office at Cheong Wa Dae, was arrested on Saturday on suspicion of “covering up the case of a fisheries official killed by North Korean troops in September 2020.”
After media broke news that Lee Dae-jun, an official of the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, was killed by North Korean soldiers in the West Sea after falling overboard a fisheries guidance boat and floating into North Korean waters, Suh jumped to the conclusion that Lee was killed while voluntarily defecting to North Korea.
Suh is suspected of instructing the Ministry of National Defense and the National Intelligence Service to delete from their intelligence reports content that went against circumstantial evidence of Lee’s voluntary escape to North Korea. Suh is also suspected of instructing the Korea Coast Guard to announce his voluntary defection to the North.
Suh was the top official in charge of national security affairs under President Moon Jae-in.
By granting a pre-trial detention for Suh, the court acknowledged to a considerable extent that Lee’s defection to North Korea was a wrong conclusion and that the Moon administration concealed facts to justify the judgment.
But Moon did not apologize. He criticized the current government and prosecution.
A day after Suh was arrested, Moon said that it is difficult to find again an expert like Suh who built trust between South and North Korea and that it is pitiful to see such an asset broken.
A day before the detention hearing for Suh began, Moon said that government agencies’ judgments that had been reported to the president and announced to the media were reversed after the change of government. “Do not cross the line,” Moon said.
But the prosecution’s re-investigation found ample evidence the Moon administration destroyed facts in order to frame Lee as a voluntary defector to North Korea.
Above all, the military authorities and the intelligence agency were found to have deleted 106 pieces of information after Suh’s instruction.
The Korea Coast Guard announced Lee escaped to the North in panic over a gambling debt but the announcement turned out to be groundless.
Its commissioner general was found to have said, “I will pretend that I did not see the report,” after seeing a report that Lee did not defect to North Korea.
Three hours before Lee was killed, Moon received a report, but there was no effort to rescue him. Moon did not even attend a related meeting after the killing.
When the Board of Audit and Inspection demanded Moon’s answers to its written questions, he refused to accept them, saying it is “rude.” Lee’s bereaved family demanded that Moon disclose what he did while Lee was shot dead and incinerated on the spot by North Korean soldiers, but Moon kept silent. He designated related data as presidential records to archive and sealed them for 15 years.
In criticizing the current government over Suh’s arrest, Moon said that he received reports directly from the Ministry of National Defense, the Korea Coast Guard and the National Intelligence Service and that he gave the final approval. This is an admission that he received all relevant reports and set a guideline on how to deal with the incident. Under the guideline, Suh and the three agencies destroyed evidence to make it seem like Lee defected to the North. If this is true, the final responsibility lies with Moon. Also, it is unlikely that presidential staff arbitrarily planned to frame Lee as a voluntary defector to North Korea without guidelines or instructions from the president.
It is shocking for a South Korean to be killed by North Korean soldiers. It is a serious matter for the government to make no rescue efforts. Furthermore, the government is suspected of shaming Lee and his bereaved family.
Nothing is known about what instructions Moon made after receiving the reports and why he did so. He must stop avoiding responsibility and disclose what he did. There can be no such thing as a sanctuary in investigation.