Kim Ki-yun, a lawyer representing Lee’s family, speaks during a news conference Friday. On the left is the deceased offical’s older brother, Lee Rae-jin. (Yonhap)
The family of Lee Dae-jun, a fisheries official who was killed by North Korean troops in 2020, is seeking disclosure of what former President Moon Jae-in did in the time from when he was alerted of Lee’s capture by the North until he was shot dead six hours later.
“President Moon had about six hours to take action and possibly save him,” the slain official’s older brother, Lee Rae-jin, told The Korea Herald. “We want to know what the Moon administration was doing in the first critical hours leading to the killing of a South Korean citizen and government worker by North Korea.”
Kim Ki-yun, a lawyer working with the bereaved family, said Sunday in a phone call with The Korea Herald that the two key questions are “what actions and efforts were undertaken by the president after he first learned (Lee) was captured, and what prompted the early determination that he tried to defect to North Korea.”
He said at a meeting with the Democratic Party leadership, slated for Monday, he would ask for cooperation from the main opposition in declassifying some of Moon’s presidential records that can reveal critical pieces of information.
“On Monday we plan to ask the opposition to adopt the record release as part of its platform, and soon, preferably during July,” he said. “More than half of the National Assembly seats are held by the Democratic Party and the National Assembly’s chairperson is also from the Democratic Party.”
Approval from at least two-thirds of the National Assembly, whose majority is controlled by the Democratic Party until the next general election in 2024, can open up presidential records.
If the Democratic Party-majority National Assembly fails to take steps to release the records, Kim said the family is left with the only other option, which is to pursue legal action against Moon. Other than a National Assembly approval, a warrant issued by the chief justice of a high court can unlock presidential records.
Last week, the Presidential Archives already rejected the family’s request to provide information about Lee’s case, saying it is unable to address any inquiries about what is part of Moon’s presidential records, and what isn’t.
As he exited his presidency, Moon set the government records surrounding Lee’s killing as presidential materials, keeping them secret for a minimum of 15 years. This designation, which went against a court ruling that allowed family access to some Cheong Wa Dae records, is now being challenged in the Constitutional Court.
With the release of the records, the family is hoping to get answers, which may help court efforts to hold ex-administration officials and North Korea accountable.
During a June 19 interview with The Korea Herald, Lee’s wife, Kwon Young-mi, said, “What we want is just the plain truth about what really happened to him.” To the Democratic Party’s continued claims of a possible North Korea defection, she said, “I think it’s such a serious accusation to be made without the evidence to back it up, and I haven’t seen any evidence yet.”
During a meeting with Lee’s family at the National Assembly ahead of the weekend, the ruling People Power Party’s floor leader Kwon Seong-dong said getting to the bottom of what happened was something “the family members of the deceased, as well as all South Koreans, deserve to know.”
“A government official of South Korea was murdered by North Korea, and then reviled by his own country as a defector,” he said. “This is something that goes beyond redeeming the honor of one family. This raises fundamental questions about the reason for our government’s existence.”
By Kim Arin (firstname.lastname@example.org