Seoul city official acquitted of spying charges

SEOUL, Aug. 22 (Yonhap) -- A South Korean court on Thursday acquitted a Seoul city official posing as a North Korean defector of carrying out espionage activities for the communist regime.

The Seoul Central District Court delivered the not-guilty verdict, citing a lack of credibility and consistency in the testimony of a key witness.

The 33-year-old defendant, only identified by his surname Yoo, was indicted on charges of handing over the information of some 200 defectors living in Seoul to the North's Reconnaissance Bureau, which oversees espionage operations against the South, in breach of Seoul's National Security Law.

"The testimony of the defendant's sister, who is a key witness in the case, is inconsistent and doubtful," Judge Lee Buhm-gyun said in his ruling, adding that it is difficult to judge there was evidence proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt after reviewing proof submitted by the prosecution.

In the same ruling, Yoo was sentenced to one year in prison suspended for two years, and ordered to pay a fine of some 25 million won (US$22,200) for violating the country's passport act.

Upon receiving the suspended term, Yoo was immediately released.

Yoo, who is a Chinese national, arrived in South Korea in 2004, disguising himself as a North Korean defector. In 2011, he was hired by the Seoul Metropolitan Government to work for the division of North Korea Defector Support on a two-year contract.

Prosecutors alleged that Yoo collected the information on North Korean defectors in the South through his contact with local defectors' groups. He allegedly relayed the detailed information on the defectors to Pyongyang's spy agency through his sister on three occasions between February and July 2011, prosecutors said.

Yoo was arrested after his sister was detained last year by Seoul authorities when she was trying to defect to the South by also posing as a defector, they added.

South Korea is currently home to more than 24,000 North Korean defectors.

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