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Moon officials tried to cover up North Korea’s murder of South Korean: state inspectors

By Kim Arin

Published : Dec. 7, 2023 - 15:54

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Ex-Moon’s Minister of National Defense Seo Wook, a key defendant in the cover-up case, appears for a court date on Oct. 21 last year. (The Korea Herald) Ex-Moon’s Minister of National Defense Seo Wook, a key defendant in the cover-up case, appears for a court date on Oct. 21 last year. (The Korea Herald)

The South Korean national inspection service concluded Thursday that the previous Moon Jae-in administration attempted to cover up North Korea’s killing of a South Korean government official in 2020, after failing to make rescue efforts while the official was in North Korean captivity.

In its final report, the Board of Audit and Inspection of Korea accused the preceding administration of mishandling the events leading to and after the death of the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries official.

The official was shot to death at sea by North Korean soldiers on Sept. 22, 2020, after he was seized while on patrol duty near the inter-Korean sea border off the west coast of the peninsula. His remains were burned and never returned to the family.

According to the BAI, the South Korean government neglected to take the required steps when the official was reported missing near the sea border with North Korea and tried to cover up the circumstances surrounding his death until a news story forced their acknowledgment.

The BAI said the Moon’s presidential Office of National Security, the Ministry of National Defense and other concerned agencies made no efforts to save the official while he was in North Korean custody.

The National Security Office under Moon did not convene an emergency meeting nor inform other ministries immediately despite learning the official was in North Korean waters, the BAI found. Key officials at the National Security Office, including its chief Suh Hoon, left work early that day without addressing the situation.

The Defense Ministry, deciding that the official being held captive by North Korea was outside its remit, also took no action after being briefed on the situation by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The BAI said the official was killed hours after he was found by North Korean soldiers amid inaction by the South Korean government.

The Moon presidential office, after initially ordering the concerned agencies to keep the official’s death discreet, came up with a press response to portray what happened as a case of an attempted defection to North Korea, the BAI said.

While the National Intelligence Service found no evidence the official died trying to defect to North Korea, the spy agency revised its brief to remove the parts that contradicted the government announcement of his death as an instance of a failed defection.

The Defense Ministry expunged internal reports containing military intelligence related to the official’s case following the government announcement, the BAI found.

The BAI urged disciplinary action against 13 officials accused of negligence and the subsequent cover-up, including the former Defense Minister Seo Wook who was in office then.

Seo and other Moon officials who were in charge at the time are facing a trial over accusations they neglected to respond and then attempted to destroy evidence of said negligence.

Thursday’s final findings by the BAI are not disclosed to the public in full for security reasons.