The Korea Herald


Auditor says Moon govt distorted 2020 death of fisheries official

By Yonhap

Published : Dec. 7, 2023 - 11:20

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The Board of Audit and Inspection (Herald DB) The Board of Audit and Inspection (Herald DB)

The state audit agency on Thursday announced the final results of its inspection into the 2020 death of a South Korean fisheries official at the hands of North Korea, concluding that the then Moon Jae-in government did little to save him and covered up and distorted facts related to the case.

The Board of Audit and Inspection reached a conclusion after its yearlong inspection into the preceding Moon government's handling of the killing of the fisheries official, Lee Dae-jun, by the North's military near the inter-Korean maritime border in the Yellow Sea on Sept. 22, 2020.

The BAI said the Moon government responded negligently and took no action before Lee's death and covered up the incident after the North murdered the official and burned his body, jumping to the conclusion that he attempted to defect to the North.

The audit agency demanded that 13 people involved in illegal and unfair practices be disciplined or cautioned and records be left in their personnel data to disadvantage them in their possible reemployment in public office. It also asked the related public organizations to take caution.

The 13 people reportedly included former Defense Minister Suh Wook and former Coast Guard Commissioner General Kim Hong-hee. The BAI unveiled its final audit results in a press release on the basis of its interim conclusion, disclosed in October last year, but did not make public the original text for national security reasons.

The state auditor last year requested the prosecution investigate 20 people, including the former defense minister, former National Security Adviser Suh Hoon and former National Intelligence Servicechief Park Jie-won, and court trials are currently under way.

According to the BAI finding, all the relevant agencies, such as the presidential National Security Office, the Coast Guard, the unification and defense ministries, and the NIS virtually sat idle and did not take any action even before Lee's death.

The NSO, the de facto national crisis management control tower, received a report from the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the missing fisheries official was discovered in North Korean waters on the afternoon of Sept. 22, 2020, but did not share the report with the unification ministry and other agencies, let alone hold an initial situation assessment meeting.

Suh Hoon, then chief of the NSO, left work early, and a senior NSO official in charge of national crisis management also left work at 7:30 p.m., even though the situation was not over.

The Coast Guard received a report from the NSO around 6 p.m. but did not try to obtain additional information and request necessary cooperation from the defense ministry. A senior unification ministry official was notified by the NIS of the situation but failed to report it to the minister or vice minister.

The defense ministry received a report from the JCS but did not review the need to send a message to North Korea or possible measures from the military. Moreover, the ministry did not make any recommendations to the NSO.

After Lee was shot to death and burned, the relevant organizations deleted and distorted data to cover up the facts and deliberately highlighted his possible attempt to defect to the North.

At a meeting of relevant ministers held at 1 a.m. on Sept. 23, the NSO issued guidelines for maintaining security regarding the incineration of Lee's body, and the defense ministry ordered the JCS to delete the related confidential data at 2:30 a.m.

The unification ministry falsely told parliament and the media that it first became aware of the incident in the early morning of Sept. 23, though it was notified by the NIS on the afternoon of Sept. 22.

The Moon government also announced to the nation several times that Lee had voluntarily defected to North Korea. (Yonhap)