Prosecution presumes loss of footing behind death of fisheries official in 2020

SEOUL– A fisheries official killed by North Korea’s military about two years ago appeared to have lost his footing while on duty aboard a fishery inspection boat, the prosecution said Thursday, refuting the preceding government’s claim that he attempted to defect to the North.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors Office investigating the preceding Moon Jae-in government’s handling of the killing of the fisheries official, Lee Dae-jun, made the speculation, while indicting former National Intelligence Service (NIS) chief Park Jie-won, former Defense Minister Suh Wook and former NIS chief secretary Noh Eun-chae without detention on charges related to the case.

Park, Suh and Noh were charged with instructing the deletion of intelligence reports on Lee’s case one day after his death in their alleged cover-up attempt.

The 47-year-old Lee was fatally shot by the North’s military on Sept. 22, 2020, near the inter-Korean maritime border in the Yellow Sea after going missing the previous day while on duty on board the inspection boat. The Moon government announced at the time he could have been attempting to defect to the North.

The prosecution said it is difficult to say Lee had attempted to defect to North Korea voluntarily for several reasons.

It said the possibility of Lee’s loss of footing is higher than that of his defection attempt, considering his failure to wear a life jacket, the maritime situation at that time and the circumstances of Lee and his family.

“Various evidence collected during the investigation suggests Lee didn’t wear a life jacket when he fell into the sea,” a prosecution official said.

He explained that a life jacket with Chinese characters that Lee was known to be wearing when he was found in North Korean waters was not owned by the South Korean government vessel. Moreover, swimming suits, flippers and personal waterproof suits all remained intact aboard the ship.

The prosecution said the flow speed caused by currents and other factors was faster than the swimming speed of adult males and the water temperature was as low as 22 C, which hinders a long stay in the sea.

In addition, the location where Lee was found in North Korea was at least 27 km away from the inspection ship, it said, adding it is considered unlikely that he would have attempted to swim that distance without using power.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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