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[Editorial] Shanghai scandal

Was she a mere visa broker or a spy of a Chinese intelligence agency? This question comes to mind first when we hear that several Korean diplomats at the consulate in Shanghai are accused of having affairs with a Chinese woman and leaking classified information to her.

The scandal first surfaced in November last year but the ministries whose officers were suspected of being involved in it did not bother to figure out whether it was a simple sex scandal or a serious espionage case. They did not report it to the prosecution, prime minister or the presidential office either.

The Prime Minister’s Office launched a probe into the case in late December after an anonymous tipster filed a complaint about the diplomats in Shanghai. The office found that at least two consuls had inappropriate relationships with the woman, identified by her surname Deng, and gave her secret information.

But the office stopped short of getting to the bottom of the case and left follow-up measures to the relevant ministries. The Ministry of Justice questioned the consul it dispatched to Shanghai but did not dig up the scandal after accepting his resignation.

The Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Knowledge Economy also questioned their officials but did not go any further in the face of their denial of any serious wrongdoing. Neither the Prime Minister’s Office nor the ministries wanted to go deeper.

Consequently, no one really knows for sure why Deng approached the diplomats. The 33-year-old woman is believed to be a visa broker and reportedly wanted to become an authorized visa agent. But the information contained in Deng’s USB memory stick, which was found and sent to the Korean government by her Korean husband, suggests she might be more than a simple visa broker.

The information leaked to her included not only visa-related documents of the Korean consulate but such sensitive materials as the mobile phone numbers of some 200 influential figures in the Korean government and the ruling Grand National Party.

These days, intelligence agents can wiretap people if they have their mobile phone numbers. Therefore, the leakage of the cell phone numbers raises the possibility of eavesdropping on the phone conversations of the 200 powerful figures in Korea.

The USB stick also contained a detailed itinerary outlining President Lee Myung-bak’s whereabouts during his visit to the Shanghai Expo in May last year.

Given the implications of the leakage of the presidential itinerary as well as the mobile phone numbers, a full-fledged investigation into the case is necessary ― all the more so in light of the possibility that there could be other information leaked to Deng that was not on the USB stick.

Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan said on Wednesday that an inter-agency probe team would be sent to Shanghai. Although belated, a thorough probe should start immediately. Based on the findings, the government needs to punish officials who dishonored the nation and harmed national interests by leaking classified information. Disciplinary measures will also have to taken for those who sought to cover up the case.
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