Former national security chief Suh Hoon was arrested over his suspected manipulation of a 2020 case where a fisheries official was killed at sea by North Korean troops.

Suh served as the former president's spy chief before being appointed as national security director two months before the death of fisheries official Lee Dae-jun.
Suh served as the former president's spy chief before being appointed as national security director two months before the death of fisheries official Lee Dae-jun. (Reuters Archive)

South Korea's former national security director has been arrested over a suspected cover-up surrounding North Korea’s killing of a South Korean fisheries official near the rivals’ sea boundary in 2020.

Suh Hoon was arrested early on Saturday over concerns that he may attempt to destroy evidence, the Seoul Central District Court said in a statement.

Suh didn’t answer reporters’ questions about the allegations on Friday as he appeared at the court for a review over the prosecution’s warrant request.

Suh faces suspicions that he used a Cabinet meeting to instruct officials to delete intelligence records related to the incident while the government crafted a public explanation of 47-year-old fisheries official Lee Dae-jun's death.

He is also suspected of ordering the defence ministry, national intelligence service, and the coast guard to portray Lee as trying to defect in their reports on his killing.

Critics say the Former President Moon Jae-in's government went out of its way to paint Lee as unsympathetic as it tried to appease a nuclear-armed rival with a brutal human rights record.

'Withholding' evidence

Suh Hoon’s arrest came as President Yoon Suk Yeol’s conservative government investigates his liberal predecessor’s handling of that killing and another border incident the same year.

Moon, who staked his single-term on inter-Korean rapprochement before leaving office in May, has reacted angrily to the investigation into Suh's actions.

Moon issued a statement this week accusing Yoon’s government of raising groundless allegations and politicising sensitive security matters.

A previous inquiry by South Korea’s Board of Audit and Inspection concluded that officials from Moon’s government made no meaningful attempt to rescue Lee after learning that he was drifting in waters near the Koreas’ western sea boundary in September 2020.

After confirming that Lee had been fatally shot by North Korean troops, officials publicly played up the possibility that he had tried to defect to North Korea, citing his gambling debts and family issues, while withholding evidence suggesting he had no such intention, the audit board said in an October report.

In June, the defence ministry and coast guard reversed the Moon government’s description of the incident, saying there was no evidence that Lee had tried to defect.

Yoon’s government is separately investigating the 2019 forced repatriation of two North Korean fishermen, despite their reported wish to resettle in South Korea.

In July, the national intelligence service filed charges against Suh and his spy chief successor Park Jie-won for alleged abuse of power, destruction of public records and falsification of documents regarding the two cases.

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Source: AP