Yu Seong-jin, a staffer of Hyundai Asan who had been held incommunicado in North Korea since March 30, was freed and returned to South Korea on Thursday afternoon. North Korea officially deported Yu on the 136th day of his detention for sedition.
The Unification Ministry denied a ransom was paid for his release but gave no details of behind-the-scenes talks. In Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung told reporters North Korean officials read out a document about the result of their investigation of Yu at their immigration office "and handed him over to us."
A government official said the North presented no evidence tangible investigation results, but simply repeated a previous "abstract charge" that Yu had been engaged in "anti-North Korean activities."
Chun insisted Seoul did not apologize to the North for Yu's conduct, but apparently Hyundai Asan "expressed regret to North Korean authorities and promised to make efforts to prevent the recurrence of such incidents."
Yu arrived at the Dorasan immigration office on the South Korean side at 9:12 p.m. "I'm glad to have come back safely. I'm very thankful to the government, Hyundai Asan, and the people for making many efforts and showing concern," he said in a statement before leaving for Seoul.
Yu (41), who was in charge of managing South Korean staff quarters at the joint Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex, was arrested at the industrial park on the morning of March 30. North Korea accused him of criticizing the regime and trying to persuade a North Korean woman to defect.
The North declined in inter-Korean government-level talks to say where he was held and refused him access to South Korean officials or a lawyer.
Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Lee Dong-kwan said, "It's good to see Yu return to his family at last." He vowed the government will "maintain its consistent North Korea policy."
The official said given several other urgent matters including the freedom of the crew of the Yeonan, a South Korean fishing boat towed to the North after crossing the Northern Limit Line in the East Sea on July 30, the government is not about to change its policy, "but it's clear that a breakthrough was now made in inter-Korean relations in the wake of Yu's release."