Kim Dong-Chul, a Korean-American who became a naturalised US citizen in 1987, who had been arrested on espionage charges in North Korea in October last year admitted to stealing military secrets from North Korea, Japan's Kyodo and China's Xinhua news agencies reported on Friday.
He asked for mercy during a meeting with media organisations in Pyongyang, North Korea, Japan’s news agency Kyodo reported.
His detention first came to public attention in January during an interview CNN was conducting with a detained Canadian pastor in a Pyongyang hotel.
At that time, Kim had said that he had been living in a region of China for 15 years, which was later established to be close to the North Korean border, regularly going to Rason where he set up a business in the North Korean special economic zone.
Kim apologised for the crimes he committed while plotting with the South Koreans and expressed that his actions were aimed at toppling the North Korean regime, Kyodo said.
On Friday, he said he had been detained in Rason after using a USB stick in order to pass on nuclear-related and military secrets to South Koreans.
According to China’s official Xinhua news agency, he also admitted that he was in contact since 2011 with South Korean intelligence who had paid him in exchange for his espionage activities.
Foreigners who are detained in North Korea generally make a public, officially-scripted acknowledgement of their wrongdoings in hopes of possibly being released.
Kim’s public appearance came a week after a North Korean court sentenced an American student who admitted to stealing a propaganda banner from a hotel to 15 years' hard labour.
Observers said the harsh sentence reflected soaring military tensions on the divided Korean peninsula following the North's nuclear test in January and long-range rocket launch a month later.
The United States took a leading role in ensuring the application of sanctions that the UN Security Council imposed on the North earlier this month.