South Korean ex-spy chief jailed for accepting bribes

Won Sei-hoonBy IAN ALLEN |
One of the most powerful figures in South Korea’s intelligence establishment has been sentenced to prison for accepting bribes in return for helping a private company acquire government contracts. Won Sei-hoon headed South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) from 2008 to 2013, during the administration of President Lee Myung-bak. The once supremely powerful organization, founded in 1961 as the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, was intimately involved in the murky South Korean politics of the Cold War era, during which the country’s political life was dominated by bloody military coups and political repression. In the late 1980s, a process of democratization began in the NIS, and in recent years many intelligence observers believed that the agency had managed to shed its controversial reputation. On Wednesday, however, a court in South Korean capital Seoul sentenced Won to two years in prison for receiving kickbacks from the private sector while heading the NIS. Won was accused of having taken over $150,000 from Hwang Bo-yeon, former director of Hwangbo Construction, in exchange for lobbying the government to award construction contracts to the company. Regular readers of this blog will recall that Won is also standing accused of having meddled in the 2012 Presidential Election. According to the official indictment in the case, Won is said to have ordered a group of NIS officers to “flood the Internet” with messages accusing liberal political candidates of being “North Korean sympathizers”. Prosecutors allege that Won initiated the Internet-based psychological operation because he was convinced that “leftist adherents of North Korea” were on their way to “regaining power” in the South. If Won, who has since resigned from his NIS post, is found guilty, he faces sentencing of up to five years in prison. Meanwhile, another senior South Korean security official, former Seoul metropolitan police chief Kim Yong-pan, has also been indicted for allegedly hampering a police investigation into Won’s Internet campaign. A court is scheduled to deliver a verdict in Won’s election meddling case in mid-February, according to officials.

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