Spy Games: Defector Arrested For Smuggling Data To North

Espionage attempt undermines trust between South Koreans and North Korean defectors
January 22nd, 2013

A North Korean defector working in Seoul City Hall has been arrested on suspicion of spying, after allegedly handing over a list of 10,000 defectors living in Seoul to the North Korean government. The incident is not just a gross violation of South Korea’s national security and the personal security of those whose personal details

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About the Author

Sarah A. Son

Sarah Son is an NK NEWS columnist and a PhD candidate at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) where she specialises in inter-Korean affairs.

Join the discussion

  • http://www.facebook.com/remco.breuker Remco Breuker

    You should read the articles at http://www.newfocus.co.kr/. The fact that this Mr Yoo is not North Korean according to North Korean defectors, but an ethnic Chinese born (I presume) and raised in North Korea has created a lot of suspicion and anxiety in the North Korean refugee community in Seoul. There are some nasty overtones in the denunciation of Yoo as an ethnic Chinese from North Korea by his fellow refugees rather than as a spy! Nonetheless, it provides some insight into the politics of the NK refugee community in Seoul and in the way they see themselves (and don’t see themselves).

  • Kyung Moon

    I think the North Korean defector community in the South has a very good legal case against Seoul metropolitan government. The question is whether they will have courage to do it (against the ‘country’ that welcomed them) and whether they have legal professionals to assist them(as there is no North Korean-born lawyer in Seoul). The revealation that Mr Yoo is Chinese does not hide the fact that Seoul government has taken the decision (to hire him) lightly without properly checking Mr Yoo’s previous personal records (that he changed national identity number twice which is highly unusual in South Korea) and he was involved in multimillion dollar smuggling operation between China and South Korea previously (even though it was acquitted for limited involvement) This incident has proven that North Korean settlement support is very low on Seoul government agenda. Moreover, it proves that there is a lack of coordination between relevant departments (Ministry of Unification, National Intelligence Agency, Police, Regional Government and NGOs). A rather perfection environment for spies but a vulnerable one for poor defectors.

  • Sarah A. Son

    Thanks for your feedback – yes it is an interesting, and worrying development that it appears his background was much more complicated than originally believed. And indeed, aside from the danger that the 10,000 exposed defectors are now in, perhaps the most worrying aspect is the fact that none of this was picked up during the processing he must have been through on arrival in South Korea, or during his application for the role at City Hall. Clearly better co-ordination between government agencies is needed, as well as systems during the initial entry procedures to ensure thorough background checking. It is going to be very difficult to strike the right balance however, between under and over-policing defectors, without making genuine applicants feel like criminals. Nevertheless, the incident does have serious implications for the defector settlement support system and of course the defectors themselves will want to deflect as much of the anger away from them as possible. It will be interesting to see the full extent of the fallout as the investigation proceeds.