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Rival parties engaged in political row over ex-national security advisor's arrest

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Former Director of National Security Suh Hoon enters the Seoul Central District Court in Seocho District, Seoul, Friday, to attend a review on an arrest warrant against him. Yonhap
Former Director of National Security Suh Hoon enters the Seoul Central District Court in Seocho District, Seoul, Friday, to attend a review on an arrest warrant against him. Yonhap

By Nam Hyun-woo

Rival political parties are at loggerheads over the arrest of former Director of National Security Suh Hoon on suspicions of covering up North Korea's killing of a South Korean fisheries official in 2020.

While the ruling People Power Party (PPP) is ratcheting up the offensive by taking aim at former President Moon Jae-in, the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) is crying foul over the arrest, claiming it is political retaliation.

The Seoul Central District Court issued an arrest warrant against Suh, Saturday, citing the possibility of destroying evidence related to the official's death.

Suh, who served as director of national security from July 2020 to May 2022, is accused of his alleged involvement in the Moon administration's conclusion that the government official was shot dead at sea while attempting to defect to North Korea, even though there was not enough evidence supporting that claim.

Suh is also suspected of ordering key security officials during a ministerial meeting on Sept. 23, a day after the South Korean official was killed, to delete internal intelligence reports that contradicted the conclusion that he was planning to defect.

Suh has claimed that it was "a policy-wise judgment based on comprehensive reviews on intelligence" and there is no risk of destroying evidence. But the court did not acknowledge that claim after reviewing the prosecutors' request for 10 hours.

As the arrest warrant was issued, the prosecution can hold Suh in custody for up to 20 days.

The arrest triggered furious reactions from the DPK.

"Suh has served the country for decades as a North Korea expert," DPK Rep. Youn Kun-young wrote on Facebook. "They should not treat him like this for the sake of ruthless political persecution."

DPK Spokesperson Rep. Lim O-kyeong said, "This is a politically motivated investigation whose outcome is already determined to serve the ruling power's interest, and it will be judged by law in the end."

She added, "All data and records are at the hands of the Yoon Suk-yeol government, and they are saying Suh may be able to destroy evidence. This is such an absurd logic."

From left, former Director of National Security Suh Hoon, former presidential Chief of Staff Noh Young-min and former National Intelligence Service Director Park Jie-won attend a press conference on the 2020 case of a South Korean government official killed by North Korean armed forces at the National Assembly in Yeouido, Seoul, Oct. 27. Korea Times photo by Oh Dae-keun
From left, former Director of National Security Suh Hoon, former presidential Chief of Staff Noh Young-min and former National Intelligence Service Director Park Jie-won attend a press conference on the 2020 case of a South Korean government official killed by North Korean armed forces at the National Assembly in Yeouido, Seoul, Oct. 27. Korea Times photo by Oh Dae-keun

The former president wrote on Facebook Sunday, "It is such a shame that they have destroyed an asset of trust whose expertise and experience excel."

Moon added, "Whether it is an inter-Korean negotiation or South Korea-U.S. dialogue, the best negotiation strategy is trust, and you cannot build trust in just one day." The ex-president said, "Suh is the best North Korea expert, strategist and negotiator who participated in all North Korea negotiations during the Kim Dae-jung, Roh Moo-hyun and Moon Jae-in administrations, and it is difficult to find such an asset of trust again."

A day before Suh's arrest warrant was issued, Moon also released a statement and denounced the prosecution's move.

"As the new administration takes power, the government's decision, which was reported to the president and announced through news outlets, has been changed," the statement reads. "I was directly briefed by the Ministry of National Defense, the Coast Guard and the National Intelligence Service (NIS) about the case, and approved it."

The PPP said that the Moon administration's "naked truth" is coming to light, gearing up its offensives against the former president.

"Former President Moon himself confessed that he was in charge of letting an innocent government official be killed by the North Korean military and framed it as a defection attempt," PPP interim leader Rep. Chung Jin-suk wrote on Facebook.

"Moon appointed Suh and former NIS Director Park Jie-won as the head of national security for only one reason ― to flatter North Korean leader Kim Jong-un," Chung added.

Reportedly, the prosecution is considering summoning the former NIS director for questioning on suspicions of deleting intelligence reports on orders from Suh.

PPP Spokesperson Rep. Jang Dong-hyeok said in a commentary, "Former President Moon is the only person who stands for the people and the truth" and "he was irresponsible and let down the people."

Initially, it has been widely anticipated that the prosecution may not target the former president, because Suh, the former NIS director, former presidential Chief of Staff Noh Young-min and other Moon administration officials have said that they made a policy-wise decision based on intelligence, without relaying the case to Moon.

However, chances are growing that the prosecution may begin investigating the ex-president because Moon said in the statement that he approved the report, pundits said.


Nam Hyun-woo namhw@koreatimes.co.kr


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