April 16, 2007 / 7:07 AM / 12 years ago

S.Korea court sentences group for spying for North

SEOUL (Reuters) - A South Korean court sentenced a Korean-American on Monday to nine years in prison for spying for communist North Korea in the largest espionage case since the two Koreas began political reconciliation in 2000.

The Seoul District Court also handed prison terms of four to six years to four South Koreans, including members of the leftist Democratic Labour Party, for violating the country’s draconian anti-communist National Security Law.

Prosecutors said Korean-American Michael Jang, who is suspected of first making contact with North Korean agents in 1998, was the group’s ring leader.

Jang acted on Pyongyang’s orders to stir up anti-U.S. sentiment during a visit by President George W. Bush to South Korea in 2005, they said.

The group sent reports on South Korean political movements and analyses on political leaders to Pyongyang. Information in those reports was sensitive enough to be considered state secrets, prosecutors said.

“Judging from the danger and confidentiality of the crime, a heavy jail sentence is inescapable,” said presiding judge Kim Dong-o as quoted by Yonhap news agency.

Jang’s lawyers were not immediately available for comment. The Democratic Labour Party said the case was politically motivated.

“This shows that acts of trying to accuse our party of being associated with a spy ring were only constructed to run the Democratic Labour Party into the ground,” it said in a statement.”

Until the South’s first open, direct election for president in 1987, thousands of South Koreans had been imprisoned on charges of spying for North Korea by authoritarian leaders in Seoul, who used the arrests to crack down on dissent.

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