Ho Kang Il, a North Korean restaurant manager and his staff of 12 women who defected to South Korea now claims he was blackmailed into doing so after the National Intelligence Service (NIS) coerced them.
“Originally, I was a cooperator of the NIS and brought information to them,” Ho told South Korea’s Yonhap news agency. “They threatened that unless I come to the South with the employees, they would divulge to the North Korean Embassy that I had cooperated with the NIS until then.”
The intelligence agency allegedly first lured Ho into defecting, promising him that he and his staff would be allowed to open a restaurant in South Korea’s capital, Seoul. However, when Ho appeared reluctant to leave North Korea permanently, he claims agents threatened him.
“I had no choice but to do what they told me to,” Ho said. He also explained that his employees did not know their fate until they had boarded the plane, believing they were headed to a restaurant in southeast Asia.
Questions about the North Korean defectors were first raised two months ago after a South Korean television channel aired interviews with Ho and three of his staff members. Ho said they had been coerced into leaving North Korea.
Last week, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, Tomás Ojea Quintana, said that a thorough and independent investigation into the case is needed, calling for a formal inquiry.”There is a need to respect their rights as victims. When I say victims, I am implying that they were subject to some kind of deceit in regard to where they were going,” Quintana said, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported.
The South Korean government offers defectors $860,000 if they cross into the country and provide intelligence that improves the country’s security. The amount was previously just over $200,000, but was quadrupled last year.