Seoul says soldiers posing as refugees planned to “slit the throat” of top defector.
|South Korea said a final farewell to defector Hwang amid controversy over his posthumous medal of honour [AFP]|
Authorities in South Korea have arrested a suspected North Korean agent for allegedly plotting to assassinate a high-profile defector who died of heart failure earlier this month.
A prosecutor on Wednesday said the alleged agent, Ri Dong Sam, was formally detained on suspicion of plotting to kill Hwang Jang-yop, a former senior member of the North’s ruling Worker’ Party.
The 87-year-old Hwang, who was a tutor to Kim Jong-il, North Korea’s leader, defected in 1997 during a visit to China.
He lived in Seoul under police guard at an undisclosed address and became a bitter critic of the regime he once served, resulting in several death threats.
Hwang was found dead in his bathtub on October 10, however, police said on Tuesday that an autopsy showed he had suffered heart failure the day before, and that they did not suspect foul play.
Police said on Wednesday that there was no connection between Hwang’s recent death and the charges against the alleged agent.
The prosecutor said that the alleged North Korean agent came to South Korea in August by posing as a North Korean defector and was caught during an interrogation process.
|Hwang once served as secretary for North Korea’s ruling party [Reuters]|
South Korean intelligence officials typically question defectors for several weeks before they are sent to a resettlement centre.
The 46-year-old is accused of planning to murder Hwang on orders from the North’s Reconnaissance Bureau which oversees espionage operations against the South, the Yonhap news agency quoted prosecutors as saying.
In July, two North Korean spies were sentenced to 10 years in prison in Seoul for plotting to murder Hwang.
Hwang “suffered heart failure while he was bathing. A lot of bathwater was found in his lungs,” the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency said in a statement, citing the autopsy report.
“No traces of any drug or poison were found in his body,” police said, adding that footage from surveillance cameras showed no signs of forced entry.
‘No foul play’
“There was no foul play involved in his death,” the statement added. “We are closing the investigation since there are no grounds to suspect a homicide.”
Hwang had been on medication to treat heart problems, police said.
He was found dead on the day the North staged a huge military parade watched by Kim Jong-il and his youngest son and heir apparent Kim Jong-un.
In April, the North’s official website threatened Hwang with death for his criticism of the regime during trips to the US and Japan, calling him a “traitor and human scum” and warning he would “not be safe anywhere”.