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Indonesia asks Seoul to verify details of hotel room break-in

South Korean spy agency denies role


Indonesia has officially asked South Korea to verify Seoul spy agency’s alleged trespassing into a hotel room of its envoys for intelligence gathering purposes, the Foreign Ministry here said Monday.

Local media reports revealed Monday that three agents belonging to Seoul’s National Intelligence Service had been caught after entering a downtown hotel room to steal confidential arms procurement information from the Indonesian delegation.

The NIS has denied wrongdoing but suspicions continue to run high as its officials have been offering inconsistent versions of events that day.

The issue has sparked concerns of diplomatic fallout with the Southeast Asian state that has grown into one of Seoul’s largest potential economic partners in recent years.

“The Indonesian Embassy officially inquired about the details of the case,” South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Byung-jae said, adding the ministry is still in the process of gathering details on the incident.

Indonesian Ambassador Nicholas Tandi Dammen, visited the ministry earlier in the day making the official request to Park Hae-yun, who is in charge of South Asian and Pacific affairs, the spokesman said.

The Southeast Asian state is yet to make an official complaint over the issue with the embassy declining to comment until it has “learned all the necessary details.”

According to local police, the intruders, consisting of two men and one woman, fled after being caught by a member of the Indonesian delegation while copying computer files onto a USB memory stick on Feb. 16.

The purported spy agents are believed to have been attempting to steal classified information related to Indonesia’s planned arms trade with South Korea while the delegation left for a meeting with President Lee Myung-bak. It remains unclear whether the agents stole any information.

Only a limited number of officials belonging to the presidential house and government agencies could have known when the delegation would leave the room, sources say.

“It has been an unspoken habitual practice for spy agents to secretly gather intelligence from a foreign delegation that visits the country,” a government official said on condition of anonymity. “Still, it is an embarrassing incident for the agents to have been caught.”

The NIS previously came under fire after its official was kicked out of Libya for alleged espionage last year.

As Jakarta is believed to have learned of the involvement by Seoul’s spy agency by now, concerns are growing over the government’s longstanding effort to sell weapons to the country through improved ties.

Seoul has been increasing efforts to expand economic cooperation with Jakarta, viewing the country as a potentially large market for arms as well as other materials. Indonesia has the fourth-largest population in the world and also has abundant natural resources.

The two sides were expected to hold working-level talks as early as next month over expanded financial ties and trade.

The 50-member delegation of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had arrived in Seoul last Tuesday for a three-day visit, during which the two sides were scheduled to discuss issues including South Korea’s plan to sell the T-50 Golden Eagle supersonic trainer jet.

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