`Dead' spy to return to Taiwan

LONG GONE: The wife of Bureau of Intelligence agent Lee Chun-min said the defense ministry had tried to discourage her from trying to find out what happened to him

By Shih Hsiu-chuan and Jimmy Chuang  /  STAFF REPORTERS

Wed, Dec 06, 2006 - Page 1

A Bureau of Intelligence agent declared dead in 1994 will soon be released from a Chinese prison after 25 years and return home to Taiwan, his family members said yesterday.

The wife and son of agent Lee Chun-min (李俊敏) told a press conference at the Legislative Yuan yesterday that the Ministry of National Defense had been of little help in their decades long search to find out what happened to him.

"I have been looking for my husband for 20 years. Everyone that I contacted in the military told me that he was not in charge of the matter," said Lee Chun-min's wife, who wished to remain anonymous.

She said that at one point she almost gave up trying to find out what happened to her husband in the face of threats from the ministry to stay silent about her husband.

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lee Ching-hua (李慶華), who hosted the press conference, said Lee Chun-min was a 20-year old lieutenant when he was first assigned to China in 1979.

"He was imprisoned on espionage charges for 25 of the 27 years he has been in China. Even when he was in prison, he was still engaged in spying activities for the bureau," Lee Ching-hua said.

Lee Chun-min reportedly escaped from prison in 1981 and returned to Taiwan but was sent back to China by the bureau to continue spying. He was arrested and returned to prison in 1983.

"My husband fled to Taiwan in 1981, one week before the birth of my child as he wanted to see our baby. He was badly bruised, and all 10 fingernails had been pulled off, which was terrifying. He didn't tell me he worked for the military until then," Lee Chun-min's wife said.

Their son, Lee Cheng-hao (李正浩), said he was really looking forward to meeting his father.

"It [the news my father will return] was really a surprise. I have no idea what I will say to him when we meet," Lee Cheng-hao said.

Lee Chun-min's sentence was commuted from death to life imprisonment in 1986. His sentence was later reduced and he was reportedly due to be released by Feb, 20, 2009.

Former New Party legislator Elmer Fung (馮滬祥), who helped to negotiate with Beijing over Lee Chun-min's case, said that his association was informed by China in the middle of October that the agent would be released.

Minister of National Defense Lee Jye (李傑), responding to questions in the legislature's National Defense Committee meeting yesterday, said that Lee Chun-min had been sent to China by the government.

The ministry said yesterday it would take good care of arrested intelligence agents, dead or alive, and their family members.

"We did do whatever we could to rescue them whenever incidents happened. Rumors that our intelligence agents are not happy with what we have done are not true," said Lee Le-min (李樂民), director of the Military Intelligence Bureau's Sixth Department.

"Those agents who lost their jobs because they were arrested by the enemy will definitely have their jobs back after they return. But, we need to do it step by step by following the regulations. It takes time," he said.