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Family of slain public official seeks help from UN, US politicians

Lee Rae-jin,<strong></strong> left, the elder brother of the government official shot dead by North Korea's military in September 2020, stands next to his lawyer as he reads a statement to reporters at the Seoul District Prosecutors' Office in southern Seoul, Wednesday. Newsis
Lee Rae-jin, left, the elder brother of the government official shot dead by North Korea's military in September 2020, stands next to his lawyer as he reads a statement to reporters at the Seoul District Prosecutors' Office in southern Seoul, Wednesday. Newsis

Complaint filed against 3 former officials of Moon over obstruction of justice

By Jung Min-ho

The family of a South Korean government official shot dead by North Korea's military two years ago is seeking help from the United Nations Human Rights Office and rights-conscious politicians overseas to find the facts behind the killing.

Lee Rae-jin, the elder brother of the deceased official, told The Korea Times Tuesday that he is asking U.N. rights officials and U.S. lawmakers for support in his desperate bid to get to the bottom of the case, which he thinks was mismanaged intentionally by the previous Moon Jae-in administration to avoid provoking the North.

"At the invitation of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, I'm going to visit the United States in September to talk with members about the issue," Lee said. "If possible, I also would like to meet the family of Otto Warmbier for solidarity."

Warmbier was a U.S. college student who was put in prison on a charge of subversion after attempting to steal a propaganda poster in North Korea in 2016. He was later released in a vegetative state and died soon after.

Lee on Wednesday filed a complaint with the prosecution against former National Security Adviser Suh Hoon and two of Moon's former secretaries ― Kim Jong-ho and Lee Kwang-cheol ― for allegedly abusing their power to obstruct the investigation into the death of his brother.

"The circumstances of the case show they abused their power, which was given to them to protect the lives and safety of citizens. For that, I demand strong punishment for them," Lee said. If it becomes certain that the former president was involved in the decision-making, he will be next, Lee added.

Lee Rae-jin, left, the elder brother of the government official shot dead by North Korea's military in September 2020, stands next to his lawyer as he reads a statement to reporters at the Seoul District Prosecutors' Office in southern Seoul, Wednesday. Newsis
The widow of the official who was shot dead by North Korea in September 2020 weeps during a press conference at the Seoul Bar Association building in southern Seoul, June 17. Yonhap

The 47-year-old fisheries official was killed in September 2020 by the North Korean military while adrift and unarmed in North Korean territorial waters, and his body was set on fire afterward. The Moon government claimed that the official was trying to defect to North Korea without providing convincing evidence. His family refused to accept the conclusion, asking Moon for a proper explanation, to no avail.

The story took a drastic turn as the military and police under the Yoon Suk-yeol government said there was no sufficient evidence that he was intentionally trying to cross the border; media reports also suggest that there was pressure from top decision-makers at the time to make the case look like a defection, which the former officials deny.

The ruling People Power Party (PPP) seems determined to put the issue high on its agenda for weeks to come, accusing the former top government officials of wasting the first six crucial hours doing nothing.

"The Moon administration had six hours to do something after being informed that the official was held by North Korea. It will be important to find out whether it could have used the time to save his life," Rep. Ha Tae-keung, head of the party's special committee for the issue, told reporters at the National Assembly. "(We think) the Moon administration wasted it … We will look into all suspicions surrounding the case, including why it attempted to frame the case as defection."

The victim's family is hoping that records stored at the Presidential Archives contain helpful information to dig out the truth. Some documents can remain undisclosed for up to 30 years there. These records can be revealed if two-thirds of Assembly members agree ― which is unlikely, with the opposition Democratic Party of Korea holding a majority. Another way to access the archives is to obtain a search warrant from the court. Since its establishment in 2007, prosecutors searched the institution's records six times through that method, including five times during the Moon administration.



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