22.04.2015 Author: Konstantin Asmolov

More Undercover Pastors Arrested in DPRK

soldiers_northkorea002_16x9As a number of news agencies from Reuters to KCNA informed, on March 26 a press conference with participating representatives of local and foreign media and diplomatic corps was held in the People’s Palace of Culture in Pyongyang. At the conference, representatives of the Ministry of State Security of the DPRK informed about the arrest of two South Korean intelligence service agents, the 60-years-old Kim Guk Ki and the 56-years-old Chkhve Chkhun Gil, who had been collecting various sorts of information from Koreans living in China, from businessmen visiting North Korea and from the Chinese living abroad. The arrested persons themselves stated that they had been recruited by South Korean intelligence services in China, had been collecting information and “actively participating in the slanderous campaign organized by the American imperialists and their puppets and aimed to isolate the DPRK from the whole world”.

As earlier mentioned, on December 30 of the previous year, Chkhve Chkhun Gil illegally entered the territory of North Korea where he was captured by the border guards. However, the circumstances under which Kim Guk Ki was arrested were not disclosed. According to one version, Mr. Kim was arrested during his active work in the territory of the DPRK, according to the another version he was arrested by the competent authorities of the PRK directly in Dandong and afterwards handed over to the North Korean authorities as a person suspected of espionage.

Both arrested persons said that they sincerely renounced their actions and afforded a good deal of data which might be of substantial interest. It is quite clear that North Korean media interpreted it accordingly, but, “flowery rhetoric” aside, a rather unflattening picture begins to emerge. Both arrested persons had an extended stay in a near-border region of China where they were engaged both in espionage and falsification of data aimed to paint North Korea not only as a human rights violator, but as a sponsor of terrorism who forges dollars on top of it all. It was specially emphasized that they were attempting to engage in dividing the masses and spread the “bourgeois culture”.

Kim Guk Ki, according to his own statements, since 2003 headed an underground church in Dandong where he preached to PRC nationals of Korean origin. In 2005, he was recruited by the intelligence services of the Republic of Korea and as of the following year he was a professional spy, on official payroll.

He managed to create a spy network consisting of PRC nationals and the DPRK (including the Chinese living in the North) who supplied him with information against an incentive payment. Judging by the data provided, he managed to receive substantial information on the development of the DPRK military infrastructure and the Sino-Korean military contacts as well as on national economics. Mr. Kim was engaged in collecting secret information. In particular, he acquired photos of railway objects tracking the volume and types of Sino-Korean railway transportations. In 2010, Mr. Kim was collecting information on the visit of the DPRK leader Kim Jong-il to China, when his route passed through Dandong.

Besides all of this, he was engaged in dissemination of anti-North Korea literature, both religious and secular, including cartoons, leaflets, computer disks and USB drives. It is interesting that a significant part of this information was made up of cartoons, “insulting the highest leaders of the DPRK”; these cartoons were either printed by the South Korean intelligence service or made by him personally on his computer.

There is yet another interesting aspect. The propaganda materials contained both “deserters’ confessions” and inspiring stories on the actions of the “Christian Resistance” in the territory of North Korea – hoping that such a resistance would actually appear. For example, some leaflets made in the Republic of Korea which Mr. Kim’s agents were to disseminate looked as if they had been made by the local resistance movement.

Moreover, Mr. Kim often acted as a guide for media representatives and international organizations dealing with the issues of human rights protection in the DPRK. There are many such volunteers or scientists who try to obtain information wherever possible, including the near-border regions of China. However, instead providing them with objective data, Mr. Kim was feeding them fake data, organizing meetings for them with his agents.

However, some accusations brought against him do not seem to add up. For instance, in June – July 2007 Mr. Kim allegedly worked with a group of specialists from the University of Hawaii (USA) helping them to disseminate anti-state propaganda in the DPRK. In 2005 and 2006 he was allegedly in contact with underground religious organizations which wished to create a catacomb church in DPRK territory.

Even more interesting are the accusations towards Mr. Kim that he, accusing North Korea of forging illegal dollars, was smuggling to the DPRK foreign currency and North Korean banknotes of high quality and dubious origin (most likely, forgeries). This was done both to pay the informers and to undermine the economy. Here I would like to point out that, according to some data, the DPRK government was even forced to change the design of high denomination bills in order to combat counterfeit money manufactured abroad.

Mr. Kim confessed that he was personally involved in manufacturing counterfeit, small denomination, South Korean currency and sending it to the DPRK in batches of 100 – 1,000 banknotes hidden in the personal belongings of the PRC nationals.

Chkhve Chkhun Gil also lived in China since 2003, was recruited in 2011 and engaged in far more exciting activities. For example, using his agents, he managed to obtain photographs of the surroundings of the testing range in Yongbyong, as well as samples of the earth containing radioactive elements. In addition, his agents made photos of military objects and purchased North Korean military officer uniforms and military ID’s for raiders in case of invasion.

Moreover, involving Chinese nationals who regularly visited the DPRK, he distributed pornography and South Korean films as “an ideological subversive action”, recruited DPRK nationals and Chinese nationals who were ethnic Koreans for their missionary training in underground courses for further work in the DPRK.

I should note that there are many interesting details in the arrested persons’ statements, like names of the South Korean intelligence officials in charge of propaganda against the DPRK or supervising the work in the territory of China, exact names of churches and recreational establishments controlled by South Korean intelligence agencies in the neighboring districts of the PRC for recruiting people or making profitable business in the line of “brokers” or for sending Chinese Koreans, disguised as deserters from the North and “loaded” with propaganda information, to the West or to the Republic of Korea. According to Mr. Kim, in Dandong alone there are around 30 such bases. These are shops (mainly grocery stores), restaurants/recreational establishments and even two hotels and a Christian hospital. The computers and USB drives seized from the suspects confirm the charges.

This is not the first, and by a long shot not the last such process. South Korean agents were arrested in Dandong several times. In spring 2014, almost a year ago, a Baptist pastor Kim Chon Uk was convicted. He also worked in close cooperation with the intelligence services of the Republic of Korea and was also involved in establishing a “catacomb church”, at the same time disseminating pornography and dealing in human trafficking disguised as transportation of refugees.

The Seoul officially acknowledged that the arrested persons were its nationals but called all the pronounced charges absurd: as they put it, Pyonguong was holding nationals of the Republic of Korea, violating the international human rights protection protocols, therefore the said persons were to be released without any conditions whatsoever. The authorities of the South also expressed their deep regret concerning the DPRK’s actions in connection with the incident; as to Mr. Kim’s and Mr. Chkhve’s confessions of their espionage activities, this can be inspected and commented on later, after the arrested persons’ return to their homeland.

Simultaneously, a demand to Pyonguong was pronounced to “immediately set free” both of the two arrested persons and Mr. Kim Chzhon Uk, who was detained in the DPRK since October 2013. The Ministry of Unification promised to seek freedom for Kim Guk Ki and Tsoi Chkhun Gil in the line of inter-Korean contacts, via diplomatic channels, as well as using help from international organizations. On March 27, the Ministry sent to the North a message requesting to release and return the arrested nationals of the Republic of Korea, but “North Korea did not accept it”. This was revealed by the North Korean propaganda web-site “Uriminchzhokiri”, which noted that the Seoul authorities had to write not a “shameless” letter requesting to return the arrested persons to the Republic of Korea but rather a letter of apology for sending its spies to the North. “Uriminchzhokiri” also informed that the arrested persons had committed serious crimes against the North Korean government, so their arrest constituted a right of a sovereign state.

No wonder, concludes the author, that as in the case which took place a year ago, the arrested persons’ guilt is evident enough, and when these names emerge in the context of the “crimes of the Pyonguong regime” we should remember that not every victim of the authorities is an innocent one.

Konstantin Asmolov, candidate of historical sciences, senior researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.


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