South Korea court awards compensation for fabricated spy case

SEOUL (AFP) - A South Korean court has awarded millions of dollars in compensation to victims of a fabricated espionage case that took place four decades ago, a court spokesman said Tuesday (Dec 22).

The Seoul South District Court last week ordered the government to pay a total of 12.55 billion won (S$15.05 million) to 72 complainants who are due to receive between four million and one billion won each in connection with the 1974 Ulleungdo spy case.

At that time, a total of 47 people were arrested across the country, many of them residents from the eastern remote island of Ulleungdo.

Under torture, they were forced to make false confessions that they had formed an underground ring with the intention of starting a popular uprising to topple the government on orders from arch-enemy North Korea.

Thirty-two of the 47 were later indicted and three were executed, four were sentenced to life and the rest sentenced to between one and 15 years in prison.

The events took place when then authoritarian president Park Chung-Hee, father of the current president Park Geun-Hye, was tightening his iron rule over the country.

The arrests, which were made by the feared Korean CIA, helped attract public attention away from waves of pro-democracy protests that were sweeping across the country.

Park Chung-Hee ruled for 18 years until he was assassinated in 1979 by then KCIA chief Kim Jae-Kyu.

Retrial of the case was decided in 2010, four years after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission accepted an appeal from the victims and their relations, and the Supreme Court in December last year acquitted most of the 32 indicted of their charges, paving the way for a lawsuit.

"It is accepted that the victims were illegally arrested without being presented any arrest warrants and were subject to torture including continuous beatings and water boardings in order to extract false confessions from them", the Seoul South Court said in a statement.

"The state is responsible for paying compensation to the victims and their relatives".

The government is widely expected to bring the case to an appeals court, arguing that under the statute of limitation the victims cannot claim compensation as the case took place too long ago.