Former South Korean Spy Chief Charged With Bribery

The New York Times, July 10, 2013

SEOUL, South Korea — A former national intelligence chief of South Korea was arrested on bribery charges on Wednesday, further tarnishing the image of the country's spy agency, which has already been accused of meddling in the presidential election in December.

Won Sei-hoon, who served as director of the National Intelligence Service under President Lee Myung-bak from 2009 until the end of Mr. Lee's term in February, is the latest in a series of former South Korean spy chiefs who have faced criminal indictments after leaving office. Several of them have been imprisoned for corruption and other crimes.

Mr. Won was charged with accepting cash, gold and other gifts totaling 150 million won, or $132,000, from the head of a construction company since 2009. Prosecutors said the gifts were bribes Mr. Won accepted in exchange for peddling influence to help the businessman win construction projects from a state-run power plant and a major supermarket chain.

Mr. Won admitted exchanging gifts with the businessman, Hwang Bo-yeon, but denied accepting bribes. Mr. Hwang, head of a small, now-defunct construction company, was already behind bars on separate embezzlement charges when prosecutors recently began investigating his ties with Mr. Won.

Even before his arrest on Wednesday, Mr. Won faced trial on separate criminal charges.

Prosecutors indicted him last month on charges of ordering a team of intelligence agents to begin an online smear campaign against government critics, including the opposition rivals of Park Geun-hye, then the governing-party candidate for president, ahead of elections in December.

It remains unclear whether the online campaign affected the result of the election.

Although prosecutors indicted Mr. Won on charges of violating the election law, they did not arrest him, nor did they indict the intelligence agents, saying they were just following Mr. Won's orders. That decision prompted the political opposition to call the prosecutors' inquiry a whitewash designed to limit the possible political fallout against Ms. Park, who won the election.

The rival political parties agreed to begin a separate parliamentary inquiry into the accusations of a smear campaign, but they were still bickering over the makeup of an investigative panel.

The head of the National Intelligence Service, once known as K.C.I.A. and used by the country's former military dictators as a main tool of silencing political dissent, remains one of the most powerful government jobs in South Korea. Successive governments have vowed to reform the agency to keep it out of domestic politics.



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