The executive members of Korea’s Progressive Party are under investigation for allegedly sneaking in domestic political parties and labor and civic groups and promoting anti-government activities following orders from North Korea. According to the National Intelligence Service (NIS) and police, a senior official of the Progressive Party was trained in Cambodia in 2017 by an agent of the Cultural Exchange Bureau, North Korea’s department for espionage operations against the South. After his return to South Korea, he organized “Hangilhoe” with labor executives and farmer activists in Jeju. Carrying out the North’s directives, he fought for the suspension of joint military drills between South Korea and the U.S. and supported the candidates of the leftist party. The public security authorities are reportedly probing into another executive member of the party in Changwon and his wife on a similar charge.
These cases are similar to that of the ‘North Chungcheong Comrade Group for Independent Unification,’ which had three members arrested in 2021 for exchanging encrypted files of 84 documents and holding the protest against the use of the U.S. stealth fighters with around 60 politicians, members of labor and civic organizations in the North Chungcheong Province. At the time, the investigation was led by the NIS. Still, after it was sent to the prosecution level, the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office refused Cheongju District Prosecutors’ Office’s request to dispatch prosecutors, sparking a controversy over the government trying to reduce the investigation. Given that many of the subjects are members of the Progressive Party, and labor and civic groups, a thorough investigation is required on whether there are further links in the political community and civic societies. The investigation this time may grow in scale as it is the first of its kind to be disclosed under the Yoon administration and is being carried out across the country at the same time.
Under the Moon Jae-in administration, the number of uncovered secret agents has dropped significantly compared to the past, raising criticism about the government’s lack of will to expose them. Since the law has passed during the Moon administration in 2020, the NIS’ authority on the anti-communist investigation will be transferred entirely to the police in 2024. The current investigation may reignite the controversy over whether the full transfer of anti-communist investigation authority is appropriate.
In the past, the public security authorities have brought public criticism over the manipulation of espionage evidence against Yoo Woo-sung, a public official of the Seoul Metropolitan City. The Progressive Party is strongly resisting, saying, “Since the seize and search last month, we’ve been clear that the allegations are groundless.” A strict and lawful investigation of the charges with pertinent evidence and compliance with legal procedures will be the only way to resolve public misunderstandings about the government’s intention to crack down on North Korean spies.