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Moon sued over North Korea killing as ex-top aides sought by prosecutors

Lee Rae-jin, the brother of the South Korean official who was shot dead by North Korean soldiers at sea in 2020, (left) speaks to reporters outside the Seoul central district prosecutors’ office on Wednesday. On the right is his lawyer, Kim Ki-yun. (Kim Arin/The Korea Herald)
Lee Rae-jin, the brother of the South Korean official who was shot dead by North Korean soldiers at sea in 2020, (left) speaks to reporters outside the Seoul central district prosecutors’ office on Wednesday. On the right is his lawyer, Kim Ki-yun. (Kim Arin/The Korea Herald)

Former President Moon Jae-in on Wednesday was sued by the family of South Korea government official Lee Dae-jun, who was killed by North Korean soldiers near the sea border over two years ago. The lawsuit comes as onetime officials at Moon’s Cheong Wa Dae and Cabinet are being summoned by prosecutors one by one for questioning.

Lee Rae-jin, the late official’s older brother, accused Moon of failing to perform his duties as the president and lying about the circumstances surrounding the murder by North Korea.

“The former president didn’t immediately get to work to rescue my brother even after learning that he was in North Korea’s territory,” he told reporters outside the Seoul central district prosecutors’ office.

“The result of that neglect was the brutal murder of a South Korean citizen, who was also an employee of our government.”

Moon as president and commander-in-chief had a “responsibility to respond quickly and communicate with North Korea” when he was briefed that a South Korea citizen was alive in North Korean waters, around eight hours after he was first reported missing, Lee said.

While the official was still alive, Moon’s Ministry of Unification said that the government did not have “any channels for communicating with North Korea.”

“This also turned out to be false,” he said.

Lee said the former president once again “gave his nod to” his government’s response at the time.

In a rare statement on Dec. 1, Moon said he was the one who “made the final call” on the decisions made on the official’s case.

“It was the president (Moon) who gave the final approval on the West Sea case after being briefed by the Ministry of National Defense, the Coast Guard and the National Intelligence Service,” he said in the statement.

“Our government said that my brother died trying to defect to North Korea, and publicized damning claims about his personal life like his financial status to support the narrative that he was a defector. I want to know if the president approved this too,” Lee said.

“In the past two years I’ve done everything to uncover what went down from the time my brother first went missing to his death two days later. I even won the disclosure suit against Cheong Wa Dae but Moon archived those records and made them confidential.”

He said that he was “forced to go to the law and file a criminal complaint against the president” as last resort.

Also on Wednesday, Park Jie-won, who was the director of the National Intelligence Service during the Moon administration, appeared before prosecutors. In June, the NIS filed charges against Park, accusing him of destroying intelligence reports related to Lee’s case while he helmed the spy agency.

“I didn’t get any orders to delete things from President Moon Jae-in. Nor did I order agents at the NIS to delete anything,” he told reporters, denying the suspicions raised against him.

“I would like to make it clear that the NIS isn’t an agency that makes policies or decisions. The NIS simply collects and analyzes intelligence, and then passes that information along to the president and security offices,” he said.

He said that through Wednesday’s questioning, he hoped the “attempts to bring the NIS into the realm of politics would stop.”

“I worked for the NIS to reform it, not to delete records.”

In previous phone calls with The Korea Herald, Park characterized the ongoing investigation of Lee’s death as a “political retaliation” against the preceding administration.

“The Yoon Suk-yeol administration is cracking down on the Democratic Party by portraying Moon as a North Korea sympathizer,” he said.

In a related investigation, Suh Hoon, who served as Moon’s national security advisor in Cheong Wa Dae, was arrested earlier this month and then indicted. Noh Young-min, who was Moon’s chief of staff, and Seo Wook, who was Moon’s Minister of National Defense, were also grilled by prosecutors in the past few months.



By Kim Arin (arin@heraldcorp.com)
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