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`P`yang Tried to Sell Cultural Artifacts for Cash`

Posted July. 22, 2010 11:18,   


North Korea has tried to sell what are assumed to be cultural assets to secure funds for overseas intelligence activities, prosecutors in South Korea said Wednesday.

Rumors have circulated the North is earning dollars by smuggling cultural assets overseas, but this is the first confirmation that Pyongyang tried to authenticate antiques through spies to sell them abroad.

The Seoul District Prosecutors’ Office said former South Korean spy Park Chae-seo, 56, received pictures of North Korean pottery through an e-mail message in January last year. The message was sent by a spy from the People’s Armed Forces Ministry in Pyongyang who had converted Park to the North’s side.

Park faces indictment for violation of the National Security Law.

At the spy’s order, Park sent the pictures to antique dealers in South Korea and China to confirm the authenticity of the pottery. The peach-shaped Chinese ink water container was assumed to have been made in the Joseon Dynasty, but turned out to be fake.

Park followed the order though he was aware of the attempt to secure money for North Korean espionage, prosecutors said.

North Korean officials have been punished in the North for distributing fake cultural assets, but South Korean intelligence has not ruled out the possibility that the North Korean spy tried to sell the pottery by himself.

Park reportedly approached Ri Kwang Su, the only crew member captured alive in 1996 from a North Korean submarine that infiltrated waters off the South Korean port city of Gangneung, Gangwon Province. Visiting Ri’s home and office, Park said he would let Ri know the whereabouts of his son in the North.

Park was introduced to Ri in February 2008 by a South Korean major general who leaked secrets to Park. The following month, Ri came to Seoul and he and Park went to Ri’s home located about four hours from Seoul.

Park took pictures of himself along with Ri and the area near Ri’s office, and sent them to a North Korean spy in China. It remains unconfirmed if Ri became a turncoat, as Park persuaded a 63-year-old former North Korean agent to spy for Pyongyang.

Park worked as a spy against North Korea for the Agency for National Security Planning, the predecessor of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, but was fired after a mishap in 1998. He was indicted Tuesday for leaking military secrets to Pyongyang.

Prosecutors said Park received partial details of Operational Plan 5027-04, a military secret classified as level 2, from the major general and sent nine South Korean military manuals to the North from September 2003 through July 2005.