SEOUL (Reuters) - A South Korean court on Wednesday convicted a North Korean woman defector charged with extracting state secrets from military officers in return for sexual favors and sentenced her to five years in jail, a court official said.
Won Jeong-hwa, 34, was arrested in August on suspicion of posing as a defector and sleeping with South Korean military officers in exchange for classified information on weapons systems and the locations of key military installations.
Dubbed Korea’s Mata Hari by local media, Won was trained in the North to infiltrate the South’s military and assassinate key figures with toxic chemicals, including North Korean defectors who have been critical of the communist state.
Her trial came as ties between the two Koreas have chilled after a new conservative president took office in the South in February and angered the North by saying he would stop what had once been a free flow of aid to the impoverished neighbor.
Won’s lawyer said the five-year sentence was tougher than expected and he and his client are considering an appeal.
The Suwon District Court south of Seoul found her guilty of breaking the anti-communist National Security Law for stealing classified material, keeping a line of communication with the North and publicly showing banned materials that glorified Pyongyang’s communist leaders, the court official said.
Prosecutors said Won would strike up relationships with soldiers in key positions, seduce them and ask them for military secrets in exchange for sexual favors.
Won, who had faced up to life in prison, had admitted in court to her guilt. She spoke in a soft voice at hearings and asked for leniency so that she can be reunited with the 7-year-old daughter she had with a businessman in China.
But prosecutors said she is hardly the meek woman who appeared in court.
They submitted pictures showing scars they said she received in commando training in the North.
South Korean media said Won tried to assassinate a South Korean military officer in Hong Kong using an aphrodisiac laced with poison but failed.
She also tried but failed to meet and assassinate Hwang Jang-yop, former North Korean communist party ideology chief and the highest-ranking North Korean to defect, reports said.
“No, it’s not 100 but just 23,” Intelligence Commander Kim Jong-tae told the hearing about the number of military officers whose business cards and photos were found among her belongings.
The country’s defense intelligence chief told a parliamentary hearing in September that as part of public service as a North Korean defector, Won gave 52 lectures at military bases and it was not until the 33rd lecture that she attracted suspicion for taking a pro-Pyongyang line in her rhetoric for the troops.
The North’s official media denounced her as a traitor for leaving the country and said: “(Won is) human scum crazy for money, vanity and swindling.”
But despite the sensational details of attempts to subvert South Korean society and the defectors’ community, Won’s mission went largely unaccomplished, according to media reports.
Editing by Jon Herskovitz