S. Korea’s intelligence agency raids offices of major labor unions

Posted on : 2023-01-19 17:04 KST Modified on : 2023-01-19 17:12 KST
The raids were conducted on suspicion of consorting with North Korean agents
Investigators with the National Intelligence Service face off against KCTU organizers as the former attempt to carry out a search and seizure warrant at the KCTU headquarters in Seoul on Jan. 18. (Kim Hye-yun/The Hankyoreh)
Investigators with the National Intelligence Service face off against KCTU organizers as the former attempt to carry out a search and seizure warrant at the KCTU headquarters in Seoul on Jan. 18. (Kim Hye-yun/The Hankyoreh)

On Wednesday, Korea’s National Intelligence Service and police conducted a sudden search and seizure operation at four locations targeting former and current executives affiliated with the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) based on suspicions of violating the National Security Act.

The move comes soon after authorities announced an investigation into the alleged formation of anti-state groups by activists and others in South Gyeongsang Province and Jeju Island. Critics say the spy agency’s full-scale investigation into the KCTU is part of a ramp up by the Yoon government in investigations into trumped up national security breaches and communist-sympathizing.

Starting around 9:10 am on Wednesday, the NIS and police attempted to conduct a search and seizure operation of the administration office of the KCTU and the offices of the Korea Health and Medical Workers’ Union (KHMWU), both in Seoul.

The targets were Individual A, an executive at the KCTU, and Individual B, an executive at the KHMWU.

The NIS and police also searched the home of Individual C in Damyang, South Jeolla Province, a member of a Kia Motors union branch who served as vice chairman of the Korean Metal Workers' Union (KMWU), and a peace shelter in Jeju’s Bonggae neighborhood headed by Individual D, a former member of the KMWU.

“We received a search and seizure warrant from the court to investigate a case related to suspected violations of the National Security Act and executed [the warrant] with the police,” an NIS official said.

KCTU members held their ground for two hours amid the two agencies’ attempts to search their facilities. Authorities used a ladder truck and air mattress and were able to eventually execute their search warrant.

According to the Hankyoreh’s coverage, four former and current executives of the KCTU who are being investigated by the NIS and police are suspected of having had contact with North Korean agents in Cambodia, Vietnam, and China between 2016 and 2019. The NIS and police also suspect that these individuals received money from North Korea for working together with them.

The KCTU case is separate from the recent investigations by the NIS and other agencies into the formation of anti-state groups by activists and civil society organizations in South Gyeongsang Province and Jeju.

“There was no mention in the warrant that we received directives from North Korea,” unlike the cases related to the civil society organizations in South Gyeongsang Province and Jeju, a KCTU official familiar with the search warrant said.

This latest raid comes amidst the Yoon administration’s drive to pressure critics through, among other measures, a full audit of government subsidies to civic groups. The indurate approach on unions also follows Yoon’s decision to make “fighting union corruption” a key national task in the wake of the strike by unionized truckers last November.

The KCTU, however, strongly protested, calling the government’s actions an “intention to suppress the labor movement.”

The argument is that this latest search and seizure operation targeting the KCTU clearly reflects the Yoon administration’s anti-union stance since the allegations are not even directed at individuals with direct ties to labor unions or union activity.

“Based on the execution of the search and seizure warrant, [the government] will try to damage the KCTU and the labor movement by saying that subversive forces have infiltrated labor unions,” the KCTU said in a statement. “We will start a strong struggle against the violence of the Yoon Suk-yeol regime,” the statement read.

According to the National Intelligence Service Watchdog Network, the full-scale search and seizure operation targeting the KCTU can be seen as “a protest by the NIS to maintain its most powerful form of authority: the power to conduct investigations into cases related to anti-communist activity.”

“We condemn the regression of the NIS, which is trying to reinstate its right to investigate anti-communism cases, and make it clear that attempt to suppress rational criticism of the government through Yoon Suk-yeol-style attempts at ruling through public security [investigations] will never be tolerated,” the organization said.

By Sun Dam-eun, staff reporter; Park Tae-woo, staff reporter; Jang Na-rye, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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