The Korea Herald


NIS says Ri Yong-ho purged, unclear whether executed: lawmakers

‘The possibility cannot be ruled out that North Korean drone may have filmed presidential office during intrusion’

By Kim Arin

Published : Jan. 5, 2023 - 18:23

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Kim Kyou-hyun, the director of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, speaks at the plenary session of the parliamentary intelligence committee on Thursday. (Yonhap) Kim Kyou-hyun, the director of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, speaks at the plenary session of the parliamentary intelligence committee on Thursday. (Yonhap)

Lawmakers on Thursday shared the South Korean spy agency’s assessment that former North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho appears to have been purged.

The lawmakers of the National Assembly’s intelligence committee said in a closed-door briefing that the National Intelligence Service was able to confirm that Ri was purged by the regime

The closed-door briefing was held after the spy agency briefed the parliamentary intelligence committee during Thursday’s plenary session.

Democratic Party of Korea Rep. Youn Kun-young said the NIS has not yet been able to verify the news report earlier that Ri was executed.

Japanese news outlet Yomiuri Shimbun reported Wednesday that Ri, who served as North Korea’s ambassador to the United Kingdom before he was appointed as the top diplomat in 2016, was apparently executed last year.

“It is unclear at this point whether he was executed,” Youn said.

People Power Party Rep. Yoo Sang-bum, speaking at the same briefing, added that the intelligence committee was not briefed about the reasons behind Ri’s purge, or whether there were others in the North’s Foreign Affairs Ministry purged alongside him.

The NIS believes North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s public appearance with his daughter is intended to showcase his will to pass on the regime to his children, Yoo said.

Yoo said the NIS sees the recent reorganization of North Korea’s key military officials -- namely Ri Yong-gil who replaced Park Jong-chon as the vice chairman of the central military commission of the Workers’ Party -- as the North Korean leader’s move to keep the military in check.

As for the alleged presence of China’s covert police in South Korea, Yoo said there wasn’t much that could be revealed to the press at this point.

“The NIS is looking into the allegations that surfaced in recent news reports,” he said.

He added that the NIS was also reviewing whether such secret police being based here could constitute violations of the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations or of South Korea’s immigration law.

According to Spanish-based nongovernmental organization Safeguard Defenders, China is operating more than 100 police stations overseas with the aim of forcibly repatriating some Chinese nationals.

After the allegations were raised, a Chinese restaurant in Seoul was accused as being a base for Beijing’s secret police, which its owner later denied in a press conference on Dec. 29.

Yoo said that the NIS also confirmed the military announcement earlier the same day that one of North Korea’s uncrewed aerial vehicles flew near the no-fly zones around the presidential office and residence in central Seoul last month.

The NIS, in response to lawmakers’ questions, said it could not “rule out the possibility” that the drone could have captured footage or images of the presidential office, he said.

He added the NIS said North Korea appears to own about 200 small drones of 20 different types including a few combat drones.

Thursday’s announcement comes after Democratic Party Rep. Kim Byung-joo first suggested that the North Korean drone may have flown over a part of the no-fly zone.

In a briefing held late Thursday, the presidential office questioned how the opposition party lawmaker was able to obtain the information ahead of the military.

“We are wondering how the lawmaker had that information even before our military authorities,” Kim Eun-hye, the senior press secretary for President Yoon Suk Yeol, told reporters.