Kobe man gets retrial for spying for N. Korea

Kyodo News

The Seoul High Court has reportedly decided to hold a retrial for an ethnic Korean resident of Kobe who served 15 years in a South Korean prison for spying for North Korea.

A South Korean court in July acquitted a South Korean resident of Kyoto, leading to another retrial of a Nara resident over spying cases involving ethnic Koreans from Japan in the 1970s and 1980s, but the case of Lee Hon Chi, 58, stands out because he was given one of the heaviest punishments.

The South Korean Defense Ministry said in a 2007 report there was a strong possibility that charges against Lee, who was first sentenced to death and then later to life in prison in an appeals court, had been falsified, making his acquittal almost certain in the coming retrial.

The Kobe-born man, who was a Samsung Electronics employee, was convicted of violating South Korea’s National Security Law. The court found he had joined Samsung and entered South Korea to obtain secrets. According to the judgment, Lee crossed into the North at the instruction of a North Korean agent and received training there.

Lee was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. He served 15 years until his release in 1996.

During its investigation, the ministry failed to confirm the existence of the North Korean agent who supposedly instructed Lee. A university lecturer also testified that Lee was in Japan during a period when he is said to have traveled to North Korea, giving him a plausible alibi.

The Seoul High Court acknowledged in its retrial decision that Lee was detained by the South Korean military’s Defense Security Command in October 1981 without a warrant, illegally held for 19 days and subjected to torture.

Lee’s wife, Pak Jong Suk, was detained along with him. She gave birth to their son in a military facility six days later.

Lee has argued he was coerced into admitting guilt when investigators told him to do what they said if he wanted to see his wife and son again.

“I want to tell Japanese and South Korean societies the existence of similar sufferings by proving my innocence as soon as possible and want to help other victims restore their reputation,” he said.

Several Korean residents of Japan were held in South Korea in the 1970s and 1980s for allegedly spying for North Korea. Many of their cases are now being called into question.

In July, Lee Jong Soo, a resident of Kyoto, became the first to be acquitted in a retrial over the spying cases, and the ruling has since been finalized. A South Korean court also decided in August to hold a retrial for another ethnic Korean man, Yun Jong Hon, who lives in the city of Nara.