S. Korean in hacking scandal found dead

SEOUL • A South Korean intelligence official has been found dead in an apparent suicide amid a growing political scandal over a covert hacking program used by the country's spy agency.

The 45-year-old from the National Intelligence Service (NIS) was discovered dead with a suicide note in his car on Saturday on a mountain road in Yongin, about 40km south of Seoul.

Yesterday, the police said the man, identified only by his family name, Lim, apparently took his own life after leaving a handwritten will in his car, giving details of how the NIS had used a controversial hacking program.

Government and NIS officials have admitted purchasing the program from an Italian company but said it was used only to boost Seoul's cyber warfare capabilities against North Korea and not for spying on its citizens.

Opposition legislators, however, argued otherwise.

Mr Lee Chul Woo, a ruling party legislator who heads a parliamentary intelligence committee, said Mr Lim had purchased and run the hacking program, which allows users to track smartphones and computers by installing spyware.

In a copy of his will released by the police, Mr Lim insisted the NIS had not spied on South Koreans and apologised for deleting files relating to the programme.

"There was no monitoring of people at home," he said.

"I deleted information that created misunderstandings about our counter-terrorism and covert operations on North Korea...

"It was a mistake on my part. But there is nothing to be worried about over any of my actions."

The NIS had a notorious reputation in the decades of authoritarian rule before South Korea embraced democracy in the 1980s and its modern incarnation has faced a series of scandals, including election meddling.

Last week, the Supreme Court ordered a lower court to review its conviction of former spy chief Won Sei Hoon, who was jailed for three years on charges of illegally engaging in political acts.

The charges related to an online smear campaign by NIS agents against the opposition party candidate whom the current president, Ms Park Geun Hye, defeated in the 2012 poll by a narrow margin.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2015, with the headline 'S. Korean in hacking scandal found dead'. Print Edition | Subscribe