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South Korean Man Accused of Espionage Faces at Least 10 Years in Russian Prison

Russia arrests Missionary Baek, a South Korean man who helped North Korean workers and is accused of being a spy.

Source: GettyImages

A South Korean citizen has been arrested in Russia on suspicion of espionage. It is the first time that a South Korean national has been arrested in Russia on such charges, and the fact that the individual was already involved in controversial work, aiding North Korean citizens, has further fueled the controversy.

On the 11th, the Russian news agency TASS reported that a South Korean national, Mr. Baek, had been arrested earlier this year on suspicion of espionage.

According to JTBC, Mr. Baek was a missionary who supported North Korean workers dispatched to far eastern Russian regions such as Vladivostok.

The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) detained Mr. Baek in Vladivostok, alleging that he had handed over state secrets to foreign intelligence agencies. For further investigation, Mr. Baek was transferred to Moscow at the end of last month and is now detained at the Lefortovo Detention Center.

Source: KBS News

The day after the report, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated, “We have been providing consular assistance since we became aware of the arrest,” and “We refrain from commenting on specific details until his identity is confirmed.”

If convicted of espionage in Russia, one could face a minimum of 10 years and up to 20 years in prison. Russia previously designated South Korea as an unfriendly nation in February 2022 due to its participation in Western sanctions against Russia, so a heavy sentence is expected.

Source: GettyImages

This is not the first time a South Korean citizen has been arrested abroad on suspicion of espionage.

In 2012, a Korean named Kim traveled to Iran on a tourist visa. During his trip, Kim was arrested for filming sensitive facilities such as Iranian military installations and border signs. He was sentenced to seven years in a trial held the following year.

The government requested leniency from Iran more than ten times for Kim’s release, arguing that “Kim had no knowledge of local laws and conditions and had no intention of spying.” The Speaker of the National Assembly and the Supreme Court Chief Justice also sent letters. Finally, Kim was released.

This was the first case in which a South Korean citizen who had violated local laws overseas was released thanks to the government’s efforts.

Source: KBS News

In South Korean criminal law, the punishment for espionage is the death penalty, life imprisonment, or at least seven years in prison. In the Military Criminal Act, espionage is punishable by death.

Under South Korean law, excluding special laws, only espionage activities by enemy countries or anti-system organizations are punished, and spying activities by allied countries or other countries or organizations are not punished.

Therefore, if someone passes South Korea’s military secrets to friendly countries like the United States or Japan or even hypothetical enemy countries like China, they will not be punished for espionage but only under the Military Secrets Protection Act.

Source: Ministry of Strategy and Finance

Recently, there have been arguments that crimes of leaking industrial technologies such as semiconductors to foreign countries should also be subject to espionage charges. Taiwan and the United States define technology leaks as espionage, imposing a minimum of five years in prison and fines of millions of dollars.

Last year, a person who tried to establish a semiconductor factory in China, copying Samsung Electronics’ semiconductor factory, was arrested. The suspect, a former executive of Samsung Electronics, stole the “national core technology” semiconductor factory BED and process layout and tried to build a replica factory just 1.5km from the Samsung Electronics semiconductor factory in China.

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