South Korean detained in Russia on charges of espionage

By Kuksung Nam, The Readable
Mar. 12, 2024 8:15PM GMT+9

The Russian state news agency, TASS, reported on Tuesday that the Russian government has detained a South Korean citizen on charges of alleged espionage.

According to the report, law enforcement officials have disclosed that the 53-year-old South Korean man, identified by the surname ‘Baek,’ acquired information deemed by Russian authorities to be state secrets by presenting himself as a writer on an online messaging platform. These authorities added that Baek intended to relay these secrets to foreign intelligence services. Further details regarding the nature of the sensitive information and the specific foreign agencies involved were not disclosed by law enforcement, according to the TASS report.

The Russian state news agency noted that this arrest of a South Korean citizen by the Russian government on espionage charges represents an unprecedented event, being the first time a South Korean national has been detained in Russia over such accusations. The individual was arrested earlier this year in Vladivostok, a far-eastern Russian city near the North Korean border. Although the specific date of the arrest remains unspecified, it was reported that the South Korean was transferred to Moscow in February.

The Russian authorities explained that the suspect was arrested during their investigation of an espionage case. TASS reports that Baek is currently being detained in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison. Following a ruling by the Lefortovsky Court on Monday, his detention has been extended for an additional three months, meaning he will remain in custody until June 15. Furthermore, the state news agency mentioned that Baek’s case has been classified as being “top secret.”

South Korea’s foreign ministry said in a press briefing held on Tuesday that they are convening talks with the Russian government through diplomatic channels. “We are hoping that the South Korean citizen will be safely returned into the arms of his family as soon as possible,” said Lim Soo-suk, the spokesperson and Deputy Minister for Public Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “We are engaging in all necessary dialogues with our Russian counterparts to ensure that this will be the case.”

The spokesperson declined to provide details in response to inquiries from local journalists seeking confirmation of the allegations against the South Korean citizen and the details of his occupation. Local news outlets reported on March 12 that the individual in question was serving as a missionary, aiding North Korean workers in the region. Additionally, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not offer any comments regarding the timeframe in which the government became aware of the detention.

The cover image of this article was designed by Areum Hwang. This article was copyedited by Arthur Gregory Willers.

Kuksung Nam is a journalist for The Readable. She has extensively traversed the globe to cover the latest stories on the cyber threat landscape and has been producing in-depth stories on security and privacy by engaging with industry giants, foreign government officials and experts. Before joining The Readable, Kuksung reported on politics for one of South Korea’s top-five local newspapers, The Kyeongin Ilbo. Her journalistic skills and reportage earned her the coveted Journalists Association of Korea award in 2021 for her essay detailing exclusive stories about the misconduct of a former government official. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in French from Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, a testament to her linguistic capabilities.