SUWON, South Korea (Reuters) - A North Korean woman accused of obtaining state secrets from South Korean military officers for sexual favors appeared in court on Wednesday in handcuffs and wearing a baseball hat and surgical mask.
Won Jeong-hwa, 34, arrested last month on suspicion of posing as a defector and spying for North Korea, could face up to life in prison if convicted. The sex-for-secrets case has deeply embarrassed the country’s military and sparked a media storm for its sensational details.
About 14,000 North Koreans have defected to the South since the 1950-1953 Korean War, with most of them coming in the past 10 years. Spy cases were commonplace for several decades after the war but have become rare in recent years.
Won did not speak to reporters and gazed downward during a hearing mostly devoted to procedural matters such as submitting evidence and written statements from witnesses.
When asked by the court if she was aware of the contents of the indictment, she answered “yes” in a barely audible voice.
Prosecutors have said Won is hardly the meek woman who appeared in court.
They submitted pictures of her showing scars she received in commando training in the North and previously told local media Pyongyang wanted to use her as an assassin.
Won’s lawyers did not speak with reporters at court.
The spy case comes as ties between the Koreas have chilled after South Korean President Lee Myung-bak took office in February and angered the North by saying Seoul would stop what once had been a free flow of aid and tie handouts to progress the North makes in nuclear disarmament.
Prosecutors told local media they suspect Won of sleeping with several South Korean officers and receiving classified information from them on items such as weapons systems and troop movements, which she then passed on to North Korea.
The North has disavowed any connection to her and lambasted her for leaving the country.
“(Won is) human scum crazy for money, vanity and swindling,” its KCNA news agency last week quoted an official with the communist state as saying.
Reporting by Kim Junghyun; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Nick Macfie