South Korea’s former national security director was arrested Saturday 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’s arrest early Saturday came as President Yoon Suk Yeol’s conservative government investigated his liberal predecessor’s handling of that killing and another border incident the same year, cases that prompted criticism Seoul was desperately trying to appease the North to improve relations.
Former President Moon Jae-in, 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 politicizing sensitive security matters.
Judge Kim Jeong-min of the Seoul Central District Court granted the prosecutor’s request to arrest Suh over concerns that he may attempt to destroy evidence, the court said in a statement. Suh didn’t answer reporters’ questions about the allegations on Friday as he appeared at the court to review the prosecution’s warrant request.
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 Dae-jun after learning that the 47-year-old fisheries official was drifting in waters near Korea’s western sea boundary in September 2020.
After confirming that North Korean troops had fatally shot Lee, 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.
Suh also served as Moon’s spy chief before being appointed national security director two months before the killing. He 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 Lee’s death.
Suh is also suspected of ordering the Defense Ministry, National Intelligence Service, and the Coast Guard to portray Lee as trying to defect in their reports on his killing
Critics say the Moon 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.
In June, the Defense Ministry and coast guard reversed the Moon government’s description of the incident, saying there was no evidence that Lee had tried to defect.
Moon’s Democratic Party issued a statement criticizing Suh’s arrest, saying suspicions he might destroy evidence were unreasonable since “all the materials are in the hands of the Yoon Suk Yeol government.”
“The Defense Ministry, Coast Guard, National Intelligence Service and other security-related agencies have made a judgment on the Western Sea incident based on an analysis of information and circumstances,” the party said in a statement. It called the investigation a type of political vendetta.