- ‘기획입국’ 과정과 국정원의 배신…허강일 “시간을 되돌릴 수만 있다면”
박근혜 정권 국정원의 대표적인 무법사태로 손꼽히는 ‘북 여종업원 기획 탈북’에 대해 뉴욕타임스가 그 전모를 상세하게 보도하고 나서 이 사건이 전 세계적인 관심을 피할 수 없게 됐다.
뉴욕타임스는 4일 ‘A North Korean Defector’s Tale of Lies, Blackmail and Betrayal-거짓말, 협박 그리고 배반 – 한 탈북자의 이야기’라는 제목의 기사를 통해 이 사건의 시작부터 여종업원 납치, 그리고 남한 입국 후 국정원의 배반과 현재 삶의 모습까지 광범위하게 취재해 보도했다.
이 기사를 보면 남한의 국정원과 이 사건의 주협력자인 식당 매니저 허강일씨와의 접촉과정과 여종업원들을 속여 남쪽으로 데려오는 과정에서의 음모와 배반 그리고 협박 과정이 고스란히 드러나고 있다.
뿐만 아니라 박근혜 정권과 국정원이 총선 승리를 위한 기획 목적을 위해 여종업들의 신원을 노출시키지 않겠다는 약속을 지키지 않고, 입국 하루 만에 언론에 대대적으로 보도하고 효용가치가 없어지자 약속을 저버리고 폐기하는 등 반인륜적 행태를 저지르는 내용을 적나라하게 보도하고 있어 충격을 주고 있다.
뉴욕타임스는 처음에 한국의 당국자들이 북한 종업원 여성들이 중국에 살면서 한국 영화와 TV 드라마를 보며 탈출을 갈망하기 시작했다고 말했지만, 지난 5월 허 씨와 몇몇 여종업원들은 한 뉴스 채널에서 그 탈북이 남한의 국가정보원에 의해 기획된 것이라고 말했다며, 7월에 이들 일부 여성들을 만난 유엔의 한 관료는 그들이 “속임”을 당했다고 말하며 “만일 이들을 자신의 의지에 반해 중국에서 데려온 것이라면 이는 범죄로 간주될 수 있다”고 덧붙였다고 보도했다.
뉴욕타임스는 한국 정부의 조명균 통일부 장관이 계속된 의혹 보도에도 ‘그 여성들이 자신들의 자유 의지에 따라 한국으로 왔다고 정부는 믿고 있다고 최근에 재차 말했지만 그 정보의 출처 역시 국정원이라고 말했다’고 꼬집었다.
뉴욕타임스는 허씨가 여러 차례의 인터뷰에서 더 많은 이야기를 털어놓았다며 그의 이야기는 거짓말과 협박, 그리고 배반에 배반을 거듭하는 이야기라고 소개하며 연길에서의 식당생활에서 중국을 떠나게 되는 숨막히는 과정, 남으로의 입국과 국정원의 배신, 그리고 현재의 생활에 이르기까지 자세하게 보도했다.
이제 북 여종업원 기획 탈북 문제는 대규모 집단 불법 납치사건으로 국제적으로 주목을 끌게 되어 한국 정부도 이에 대한 조사를 서둘러 답을 내놓을 수밖에 없게 됐다. (글, 이하로)
다음은 뉴스프로가 번역한 뉴욕타임스의 기사 전문이다.
A North Korean Defector’s Tale of Lies, Blackmail and Betrayal
SEOUL, South Korea — At about 1:20 a.m. on April 6, 2016, an AirAsia flight bound for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, was preparing for takeoff in Shanghai. One of the passengers, a North Korean man named Heo Kang-il, dialed a familiar number on his phone and conveyed a message.
한국, 서울 – 2016년 4월 6일 오전 1시 20분 경 말레이시아 쿠알라룸푸르행 에어아시아 항공기가 상하이에서 이륙을 준비하고 있었다. 승객들 중 허강일이라는 이름의 한 북한 남성이 자신의 휴대폰에 있는 익숙한 번호로 문자를 전송했다.
“I could hear hurrahs and applause erupting on the other end,” Mr. Heo said. “They called me a hero.”
At the other end of the line, he says, were South Korean intelligence officers. And on the plane with Mr. Heo, who managed a restaurant in China, were a dozen North Korean waitresses he was about to deliver into their hands — a rare mass defection that became a public relations coup for South Korea.
South Korean officials said the women had begun yearning to defect while living in China, where they watched movies and television dramas made in South Korea. But in recent months, that version of events has started to unravel.
In May, Mr. Heo and several of the waitresses told a news channel that, while he knew they were all going to South Korea, the women did not. He said the defection was engineered by the South’s National Intelligence Service.
A United Nations official who met with some of the women in July said they had been subjected to “deceit,” adding, “If they were taken against their will from China, that may be considered a crime.” South Korean human rights lawyers have sued the spy agency’s former chief and the intelligence officer Mr. Heo said was his handler, accusing them of kidnapping; prosecutors are considering bringing charges.
The country’s human rights commission began its own investigation into the kidnapping allegation this week.
Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, who oversees South Korea’s relations with the North, recently reiterated that the government believes the women came to the South of their own free will, though he said the intelligence service was the source of that information.
Now, in a series of interviews with The New York Times, Mr. Heo has said more about what led to the defection. His story — little of which could be corroborated, and which the spy agency refused to discuss, citing the prosecutors’ investigation — is one of lies, shakedowns and betrayal upon betrayal.
“They were all liars and con men,” Mr. Heo said of the South Korean spies, who he now believes used and discarded him. “I wish I could turn the clock back.”
A Model Party Worker
North Korea had sent him to China to run a restaurant in the northeastern city of Yanji. Staffed by waitresses from the North, who double as musicians, such restaurants are a source of foreign currency for the government in Pyongyang, which is isolated by sanctions over its nuclear weapons program.
Only North Koreans who have the government’s trust are allowed to work at the restaurants, and Mr. Heo was certainly one of them. A member of a well-connected North Korean family, he had been inducted into the ruling Workers’ Party at the early age of 29.
In 2013, he moved to Yanji, along with 22 North Korean women he had recruited and trained. His assignment was to bring in $100,000 a year for the regime.
“Chinese restaurant owners favored our workers because they were cheap and worked with militarylike discipline,” Mr. Heo said. The restaurant had a Chinese owner, but Mr. Heo was in charge of the staff.
Although they were outside the borders of North Korea’s repressive state, there were eyes everywhere. Mr. Heo said he was monitored by North Korean agents, who began using their leverage over him to demand exorbitant bribes.
Those demands, Mr. Heo says, were just one source of stress that began to build as the months in China went on. He also began to hear that friends in North Korea were being sent to prison camps, caught up in a wave of purges.
He said he was becoming disenchanted with his country’s system — and interested in South Korea’s. He says he began to nurture a dream of working for the South, and ultimately for Korean reunification.
One day in 2014, he says, he approached one of the restaurant’s regular customers, an ethnic Korean Chinese man who seemed to know an interesting variety of people. Cautiously, he said, he asked the man if he knew anyone who worked in South Korean intelligence.
The contact put him in touch with a man who, after a series of conversations, identified himself as a National Intelligence Service officer. By 2015, Mr. Heo said he was giving that officer information about North Korea’s missile and submarine programs, which he obtained from friends among the North Korean elite. And he had signed a pledge of loyalty to South Korea.
The arrangement went on for months, he says. Then trouble came from an unexpected source. The customer told Mr. Heo that he knew about his espionage and he demanded $100,000 for his silence.
He pressed his demands so insistently that Mr. Heo moved the waitresses to the city of Ningbo near Shanghai to work in another restaurant, hoping to evade him. But the customer showed up there, too, he said.
It seemed only a matter of time before he would be exposed. In early 2016, he began pleading with the South Korean intelligence officer to help him get to South Korea. They discussed May 30 as a target date.
But on April 3, Mr. Heo said the officer suddenly told him to leave in 48 hours and to bring all 19 of the women who were working for him at the time.
When Mr. Heo balked at that, he said, the officer threatened to expose him to the North Koreans himself. He promised the equivalent of millions of dollars if he complied, according to Mr. Heo.
Finally, according to Mr. Heo, he promised that South Korea would keep the episode quiet, protecting the defectors’ families back in North Korea from retaliation by the government.
Out of China
Mr. Heo said he bought 20 tickets for a night flight to Kuala Lumpur and told the waitresses to get ready to move again, but he did not say where they were going. The plan was to get them to Malaysia first, and later to Seoul.
Things went wrong quickly. Hours before they were to depart, five of the waitresses disappeared during a break. Fearing that they had gone to the North Korean agents, Mr. Heo rushed the other 14 women to the Shanghai airport in five taxis.
But the owner of the restaurant — furious over what he realized was happening, apparently because he stood to lose his investment — pursued them in his car and rammed one of the taxis, Mr. Heo said. The two women in that cab were left behind.
After they landed in Kuala Lumpur, Mr. Heo put the women in taxis again. They pulled up at the South Korean Embassy.
When the women saw the South Korean flag, he says, they were horrified.
“We were just told that we were moving to a new restaurant,” one of the women told JTBC, a South Korean broadcaster, in May. (The channel concealed the identities of the women, who said they feared for their families’ safety.)
Mr. Heo said he told the women that there was no turning back.
“If we return to the North, we die anyway,” Mr. Heo said he told them. South Korea, he added, had promised to protect their families by keeping the defection a secret.
They entered the building. That night, 10 black SUVs with armed escorts took the party straight to a Korean Air passenger jet, on the tarmac of the Kuala Lumpur airport, he said. The plane landed in South Korea the next morning.
When North Korean defectors make it to the South, the first step is an extensive debriefing by the National Intelligence Service, which can take weeks or even months. The morning after their arrival, the waitresses were in the agency’s debriefing center south of Seoul when they saw themselves on TV.
Far from hushing up their defection, the government had announced it to the world. All of the women wept, Mr. Heo said.
Mr. Heo now believes that the government timed the defection to generate conservative support in South Korea’s parliamentary elections, which were held just days later.
Mr. Heo has received none of the millions he said he was promised. For his work, he says, the spy agency paid him a total of $35,500. He has worked as a cashier at a convenience store and driven a delivery truck.
In North Korea, he says, his parents and his sister have disappeared.
뉴스프로 (TheNewsPro) firstname.lastname@example.org