South Korean President Park Geun-hye yesterday apologized for the latest scandal to rock the nation’s intelligence service, in which three officials have been charged with conspiracy to fabricate evidence against a man accused of spying for North Korea.
The case is the latest in a long line of controversies marking the South Korean National Intelligence Service’s troubled history that have triggered calls for reform, but it has been notoriously averse to change.
Park said the service must mend its ways.
“Regrettably, the National Intelligence Service’s wrongful practices and a system of lax oversight were revealed and caused concern among the public, and I would like to apologize for this,” Park said at a Cabinet meeting.
Park’s father, former authoritarian South Korean president Park Chung-hee, was assassinated in 1979 by the disgruntled head of the agency’s precursor at the peak of a power struggle that involved his close aides.
The intelligence service has since undergone two name changes and numerous organizational reforms in a bid to shed the image of a political tool of sitting presidents and to focus more on counterespionage against North Korea.
South Korea and the impoverished, reclusive North are still technically at war after their 1950-1953 civil conflict ended in a mere truce, not a peace treaty.
The North regularly threatens the South and its major ally, the US, with destruction.
On Monday, prosecutors announced indictments against two agency officials after charging one last month for their suspected role in fabricating Chinese immigration documents to support the case against an individual accused of being a North Korean spy.
However, prosecutors said they found no reason to believe senior agency officials, including South Korean National Intelligence Service Director Nam Jae-joon, were involved in the conspiracy and closed its investigation.
The political opposition accused the prosecution of allowing the agency to take care of its own.
Last year, the service was rocked by accusations that it had operated a secret campaign to help elect Park, the conservative candidate, leading to the indictment of several officials including former South Korean National Intelligence Service director Won Sei-hoon.
Won has been on trial and awaits a verdict. Park denies she was aware of any work by the agency to help her win the December 2012 election.
The scandals have done little to dent Park’s popularity. She finished the first full year of her single five-year term with more than 60 percent of people surveyed in various polls giving her a favorable performance rating.