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Thursday, Sep 11, 2014

Asia

Former S. Korea spy chief given suspended jail term

AFP | Thursday, Sep 11, 2014

Ex-spy chief was accused of meddling in the 2012 election that brought current President Park Geun-Hye to power.

SEOUL - The former head of South Korea's spy agency was handed a suspended jail sentence Thursday, following his trial on charges of meddling in the 2012 election that brought current President Park Geun-Hye to power.

Won Sei-Hoon, 63, was given a two-and-a-half-year sentence -- suspended for four years -- after he was convicted of illegally engaging in political acts while head of the National Intelligence Service (NIS).

Won had been charged with organising an online smear campaign by NIS agents against the opposition party candidate whom Park defeated in the 2012 poll.

While the Seoul District Court decided he had ordered agents to post politically sensitive comments, it ruled there was not enough evidence to prove he directly sought to influence the outcome of the presidential ballot, Yonhap news agency reported.

The suspended sentence was handed down just two days after Won was released from a two-year jail term for taking bribes.

The national spy agency, which has changed titles over the years, had a particularly notorious reputation in the decades of authoritarian rule before South Korea embraced democracy in the 1980s.

The modern-day NIS has been tainted by a series of scandals, most recently the forging of documents to build a false spying case against a former Seoul city official who had escaped to South Korea from the North in 2004.

Then-NIS chief Nam Jae-Joon publicly apologised over the forgery case in April and vowed a "bone-crushing" overhaul of the embattled agency.

A month later Nam was gone, to be replaced by the current NIS director Lee Byung-Kee who has promised to distance the agency from domestic politics.

"In recent times, the (South Korean) intelligence community more often has been rocked by scandals of politicisation and direct intervention in domestic politics rather than intelligence failure," the International Crisis Group said in a recent report on the workings of the NIS.

The report recommended a number of reforms aimed at depoliticising the intelligence community and ensuring adequate legislative and judicial oversight.

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