South Korea's Park apologizes for latest scandal to rock spy agency

SEOUL Tue Apr 15, 2014 2:32am EDT

South Korean President Park Geun-hye looks at the exhibition 'DMZ-Gruenes Band' during a visit to the East Side Gallery in Berlin March 27, 2014. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

South Korean President Park Geun-hye looks at the exhibition 'DMZ-Gruenes Band' during a visit to the East Side Gallery in Berlin March 27, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach

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SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korean President Park Geun-hye apologized on Tuesday for the latest scandal to rock the intelligence service where three officials have been charged with conspiracy to fabricate evidence against a man accused of spying for North Korea.

The case is the latest in a long line of controversies marking the National Intelligence Service's troubled history that have triggered calls for reform, but it has been notoriously averse to change.

Park warned the service must mend its ways.

"Regrettably, the National Intelligence Service's wrongful practices and a system of lax oversight were revealed and caused concern among the public, and I would like to apologize for this," Park said at a cabinet meeting.

Park's father, Park Chung-hee, was assassinated in 1979 by the disgruntled head of the agency's precursor at the peak of a power struggle that involved the late president's close aides.

The intelligence service has since undergone two name changes and numerous organizational reforms in a bid to shed the image of a political tool of sitting presidents and to focus more on counter espionage against North Korea.

South Korea and the impoverished, reclusive North are still technically at war after their 1950-53 civil conflict ended in a mere truce, not a peace treaty. The North regularly threatens the South and its major ally, the United States, with destruction.

On Monday, prosecutors announced indictments against two agency officials after charging one in March for their suspected role in fabricating Chinese immigration documents to support the case against an individual accused of being a North Korean spy.

But prosecutors said they found no reason to believe senior agency officials, including its chief, Nam Jae-joon, were involved in the conspiracy and closed its investigation.

The political opposition accused the prosecution of allowing the agency to take care of its own.

Last year, the service was rocked by accusations that it had operated a secret campaign to help elect Park, the conservative candidate, leading to the indictment of several officials including its former chief, Won Sei-hoon.

Won has been on trial and awaits a verdict. Park denies she was aware of any work by the agency to help her win the December 2012 election.

The scandals have done little to dent Park's popularity. She finished the first full year of her single five-year term with more than 60 percent of people surveyed in various polls giving her a favorable performance rating.

(Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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