Gov't Insists Slain Official 'Wanted to Defect' to N.Korea

  • By An Young

    October 23, 2020 12:39

    The Korea Coast Guard on Thursday insisted that a South Korean fisheries official who was shot and killed by North Korean soldiers "panicked" over gambling debts and wanted to defect to the North.

    The KCG, which has come under heavy criticism for doing nothing to save the official, at a press conference at its headquarters in Incheon on Thursday said the official "had been deeply involved in online gambling and had wired gambling money 591 times over the last 15 months."

    The KCG also claimed it "confirmed that he took money from co-workers to buy them crab but instead wired it to a gambling account before he started his final shift." It said the official, identified as Lee, had borrowed W123 million since June last year to gamble with (US$1=W1,135).

    Lee Rae-jin (2nd from right), the elder brother of a South Korean official killed by North Korean soldiers, joins search efforts to find his brother's dead body with coastguards and other officials on a ship near Yeonpyeong Island on Wednesday. /Newsis

    A forensic study of a pair of slippers Lee allegedly left behind on his fisheries patrol boat seems inconclusive. The KCG earlier claimed the fact that Lee took off his slippers means he must have deliberately jumped overboard, but his family and co-workers dispute that he would have worn work boots.

    A KCG spokesman said, "We were informed that the DNA of several people were found in the slippers that were found aboard [the patrol boat]. We also obtained testimony from two crewmembers who said they saw Lee wearing those slippers."

    CCTV footage shows Lee walking around in a pair of red sneakers aboard the ship a day before he went missing, and the KCG said they were found in the area of the ship where Lee worked, suggesting that he took them off and then donned a pair of slippers for comfort on deck.

    Lee Rae-jin

    But the victim's older brother, Lee Rae-jin (55), told the Chosun Ilbo, "The KCG's briefing is based on fiction. How could investigators make such things up? They found nothing new so they're trying to put the focus of attention on the gambling debt."

    He said he still wonders why his brother's work boots were not among the belongings that were returned to the family, convincing him that his brother must have accidentally fallen into the water.

    The official was found by a North Korean Navy vessel the morning after he disappeared. North Korean soldiers kept him in the water for six hours while the South Korean military looked on, then fired a dozen rounds into him, doused the body in fuel and set it ablaze.

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