The data gathered by the City Hall bureaucrat Yoo, which he fed to Pyongyang, could potentially threaten the safety of thousands of North Korean defectors, as well as their families still in North Korea, and has also raised questions about oversight of the South Korean government’s handling of defectors.
He apparently joined the Seoul city government in June 2011 in a two-year contract. The contract public servant was hired by the Seoul Metropolitan Government through an employment procedure for North Korean defectors , and worked at the welfare policy bureau. He was in charge of collating information for more than 10,000 North Koreans who have fled their homeland over the years. His duties apparently included meeting with families on a weekly basis, providing advice and counseling by phone and collecting details on the defectors’ lives.
Security officials were reportedly alerted to the man’s activities after it was learned that he was travelling to China frequently and may also have crossed the border back into North Korea.
“The city government is keeping a close eye on the case, waiting until the result of the investigation comes out,” said Lee Chang-hak, the spokesperson for the Seoul Metropolitan Government, emphasizing Yoo had limited access to information, such as names and phone numbers.
The claim has not helped address the understandable paranoia suffered by the nearly 25,000 North Korean defectors living in the south, said Kim Sang-hun, chairman of the Database Centre for North Korean Human Rights. “Many North Koreans here feel that the whole North Korean apparatus is after them,” he said.
In any case, it is the first time a North Korea defector working at a public office has been arrested for espionage. The man’s family are still apparently in North Korea and it is also possible that they were being used as hostages to make him comply with Pyongyang’s demands for information on defectors.