Three of former President Moon Jae-in’s key security officials stood trial on Friday for their alleged roles in the cover-up of North Korea’s killing of the South Korean official Lee Dae-jun at sea in September 2020.
The three accused in the case are Moon’s Cheong Wa Dae National Security Adviser Suh Hoon, his National Intelligence Service Director Park Jie-won, and his Minister of National Defense Seo Wook.
Seoul prosecutors believe that the Moon officials colluded to cover up important facts surrounding the official’s death, expunged records related to the incident and tried to paint the deceased as an attempted defector to North Korea in an effort to stop criticism of the government.
Prosecutors said Suh told the Cheong Wa Dae staff to keep the circumstances surrounding Lee’s death discreet in a bid to blunt public criticism of Moon’s North Korea appeasement policy.
Seo, allegedly colluding with Cheong Wa Dae’s national security office, made the ministry officials delete reports pertaining to the incident from the military intelligence management system, prosecutors said. Then he is accused of also ordering the Coast Guard to brief the press that Lee was trying to leave the country to North Korea.
Prosecutors said that at Park’s order, at least 51 intelligence reports were expunged from the intelligence service’s internal server.
Speaking before the judges, Rhee Suk-soo, the lawyer representing Suh, denied the ex-national security chief had intentions of covering up the official’s shooting death.
“Say you’ve made 100 copies of an original and then deleted about 70 of them. That’s the kind of situation that you are describing as a cover-up,” he said, arguing that Suh having ordered the deletion of the intelligence reports does not amount to a cover-up.
“Besides, hundreds of employees at the national security office and the intelligence service were already aware of what happened by that point. It’s not plausible to think Suh would believe hiding the incident was possible."
Seo’s defense team similarly said that the ex-defense minister had never intended to delete the intelligence reports, and that he was acting out of security concerns.
“Seo decoded the intelligence that captured the conversations of North Korean authorities for others at the very first ministerial-level meeting, because they were speaking in code,” said his lawyer, Kim Kwan-ku.
“He then instructed not to leak the sensitive intelligence to departments that hadn't had access to it yet, and tried to retrieve the intelligence that had already been shared among some departments," Kim said.
So Dong-ki, the lawyer for Park, said that while he was present in the ministerial-level meetings as the then head of the intelligence service, he was not in the position to make decisions for the government.
“He was not in the position to collude with those in the government, nor did he make any attempt to cover up the incident,” Park’s lawyer said. “We deny all charges.”
Arriving at court, Park was confronted by the deceased official’s older brother who shouted, “Say something. How dare you.”
Park and the other two accused in the case did not respond to questions from reporters as they appeared for trial.
In July last year, the NIS filed complaint against Park and Suh, saying that its two former heads had violated the law on the operation of the intelligence service during their tenures.