11 July 2024

A South Korean court on Saturday issued arrest warrants for a former defence minister and a former coast guard chief over their alleged mishandling of the death of a state fishery ministry employee at the hands of North Korean troops two years ago.

The decision by the Seoul Central District Court, which cited risks of them fleeing or destroying evidence, came days after the prosecutors on Tuesday filed for arrest warrants and follows an investigation by the government that showed previously unpublished details about the final moments of the fisheries official Lee Dae-jin.

The latest documents from the parliamentary investigation revealed that Lee was kept in water for nearly six hours as he drifted in and out of consciousness after being found by North Koreans, while the coast guard and navy violated rules during their initial rescue efforts by failing to seek help from other vessels and authorities nearby.

The two face charges that include dereliction of duty, abuse of power, forging official documents, and covering up and distorting facts in the case.

Lee’s death has become a sensitive issue in South Korea, in part because of the fight by his brother to clear his name. The previous administration of President Moon Jae-in had portrayed his death as a failed defection attempt due to his gambling debts, mental health issues and an unhappy life.

Meanwhile, state auditor the Board of Audit and Inspection last week said it had also requested prosecutors to investigate 20 officials from five agencies, including a former national security advisor and a former national intelligence service chief of the previous government, in relation to the case.