Russia detains South Korean man on espionage charges

March 12, 2024 6:00 pm

[Source: BBC]

A South Korean man has been detained in Russia accused of espionage, Russian media report.

South Korea’s foreign ministry has also confirmed the arrest, saying they were trying to provide consular support.

Baek Won-soon was arrested in the far-eastern city of Vladivostok “at the start of the year”, state agency Tass reported, and is now in a Moscow jail.

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He is believed to be the first South Korean detained in Russia under suspicion of espionage.

Little is known about his case, with South Korea’s foreign ministry saying “the details” were under investigation and “it is difficult to comment”.

But Russian state media Tass quoted an unnamed official in their report saying Mr Baek is alleged to have passed on information “constituting state secrets to foreign intelligence services.”

South Korean media have reported that Seoul was only officially informed by Russian authorities of the arrest last month.

Yonhap, a South Korean outlet, is reporting that Mr Baek was arrested by Russia’s Federal Security Service in January after arriving in Vladivostok from China.

The outlet said he is a religious worker and he had been accompanied by his wife, who was also detained but then later released. She is believed to be back in South Korea, the outlet reported.

Mr Baek’s detention is the latest in a series of arrests of foreigners made by Russian authorities since the war in Ukraine began two years ago. Moscow has been accused of arresting other countries’ nationals to use as a political bargaining chip and for prisoner exchanges.

Among the cases are American man and Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich who was detained last March on espionage charges and a Russian-US journalist Alsu Kurmsasheva who was accused of spreading “false information” about the Russian military.

Tass reported that Mr Baek is being held in the same prison as Mr Gershkovich – the Lefortovo Prison. A court on Monday ruled for his detention to be extended to June, the Russian news agency reported.

South Korea has with its Western allies condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and committed to a sanctions regime against Moscow. At the same time, Russia and North Korea have cultivated closer ties – with Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un meeting in high-profile visits last year which analysts believe spawned military technology deals.

Several meetings between Russian and North Korean officials also took place in Vladivostok last year.