South Korean authorities have charged five residents of Seoul, including a Korean-American businessman, with spying for North Korea. Prosecutors say the five took orders from Pyongyang, and funneled an abundant amount of information to North Korean spies, including some sensitive national intelligence. VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Friday's indictments followed an intensive two-month investigation of the five defendants, who were arrested in October.
Senior South Korean prosecutor Ahn Chang-ho says all five men passed information to North Korea in violation the South's National Security Law, which forbids a wide range of activities viewed as colluding with the North.
Ahn says the five men spied in an organized way after receiving instructions from North Korea. He calls it South Korea's biggest spy case since a historic 2000 North-South summit led to a warming of relations between the two countries.
The two are still technically at war since the 1950s Korean War ended in an armistice instead of a formal peace. But in the six years since that the inter-Korean summit, contacts between North and South have expanded rapidly. As a result, the lines defining "pro-North Korean" activity here have blurred.
The administration of South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun has called for the repeal of the National Security Law, as part of a government policy of increased cooperation with Pyongyang.
Prosecutor Ahn says the five defendants, all of who live in Seoul, belong to a group called "Ilsimhoi," or "one mind." Ahn says the leader of the group is the Korean-American businessman, who first visited North Korea in 1989.
He says 44-year-old Jang Min-ho received political indoctrination during that first visit, and subsequently returned to Pyongyang several times. He says Jang eventually received more than $16,000 from North Korea and joined the North's ruling Korean Worker's Party.
Prosecutors say Jang and three of the other defendants met with North Korean agents in Beijing on several occasions, and passed on information relating to the personal backgrounds of South Korean politicians and the deployment of U.S. forces in the South. About 29,000 U.S. soldiers are stationed here to deter the North from repeating its 1950 invasion.
All of the defendants except Jang are previous or current members of South Korea's far-left Democratic Labor Party, widely perceived as the most North Korea-friendly of the South's major parties. DLP officials dismiss the spying allegations, saying the case deals with information easily available over the Internet.
South Korean intelligence officials are expanding their investigation to see if any other South Koreans are connected to the alleged spying activities.