By Park Si-soo
The National Intelligence Service and prosecutors said Sunday that they had a female North Korean spy in custody who obtained “confidential” information about companies and the National Police Agency from people she met through Internet chat rooms.
They said the 36-year-old woman, identified as Kim Soon-nyeo, had been arrested on espionage charges, as had Oh Byung-doo, a 52-year-old former executive of the Seoul Metro subway service, who supported her financially.
The announcement comes at a time when inter-Korean relations are at their worst in years after the Seoul government confirmed last week that North Korea was behind the sinking of a South Korean warship in the West Sea on March 26, killing 46 sailors. President Lee Myung-bak has vowed to take “resolute countermeasures” against the North in cooperation with the international community.
Also, it was made public with just 11 days remaining before the June 2 elections.
According to prosecutors, Kim, disguised as a North Korean defector, crossed the border into China in February 2006 and worked as an accountant at a hotel in Zhangjiajie, Hunan Province. Running a cosmetics shop there independently, she lured some South Koreans into relationships through Internet chat rooms and obtained information on South Korea from them.
Alongside the former Seoul Metro executive, other South Koreans involved included a 29-year-old college student, and two travel agency workers.
The spy collected “confidential” information about the subway system from Oh, information about local universities from the student, and a list of names of high-ranking police and public officials from the travel agents.
Oh maintained extramarital relations with the spy since his first encounter with her in China in May 2006, and transferred nearly 300 million won ($252,000) to “help” her cosmetics business. In June 2007, he became aware that she was a North Korean spy, but continued the relationship.
“What Oh handed over to the spy included contact information of emergency situation responses and other not-so-important internal data,” Kim Jung-hwan, a Seoul Metro spokesman, told The Korea Times, dismissing concerns that it could be used in possible acts of terrorism here by the North. Kim retired from his post in 2008.
Kim attempted to enter South Korea as a “defector” in September last year, but her identity was discovered during questioning by security officials, the prosecution said.
In April, two North Korean spies were caught attempting to enter the country, also claiming to be defectors. They were seeking to assassinate Hwang Jang-yup, the highest-ranking North Korean defector here, Seoul’s spy agency said.