Updated January. 21, 2013 03:14
An official at the Seoul Metropolitan Government in charge of supporting North Korean defectors has been arrested on the charge of spying for North Korea, the first incident of its kind in South Korea.
Circumstantial evidence suggests that the official, a former defector himself, handed over to Pyongyang the full list of defectors living in Seoul and details of their situations, setting off alarm bells in the South Korean governments management of defectors.
The National Intelligence Service on Sunday confirmed the arrest of a Grade 6 officer, 33, from the livelihood assurance team of the city`s welfare policy division. He was caught on the charge of sending Pyongyang the list of defectors under his management and data on their resettlement in the South and living conditions.
He was charged with violating a ban on execution of objectives, special infiltration and escape, assembly and communication under the National Security Act for the State Security Department in Pyongyang.
According to South Korean intelligence, the official defected alone to the South in 2004 and used to be part of the North Korean elite. He worked as a surgeon for one year after graduating from Chongjin Medical School in North Hamgyong Province. After defecting, he majored in Chinese and business at a prestigious private university in Seoul, and was hired by a trading company thanks to his fluency in English and Chinese. His family reportedly remains in the North.
Later hired by the Seoul city government through special recruitment for former defectors in June 2011 under a two-year contract, the official had handled the provision of aid to more than 10,000 defectors living in Seoul. He visited and interviewed their families two to three times weekly and offered phone counseling, cultivating detailed knowledge about defectors living situations in the South.
Intelligence authorities are investigating if he applied for the city government post with the intent to spy for Pyongyang, as well as the process of how he handed over data at the instruction of North Koreas State Security Department. After defecting, investigators said, he was found to have visited North Korea via China many times.