Why Park Jie Won? Seoul's New Spy Chief Was Jailed for Sending $450 Million to North Korea

Appointment of Park Jie Won is an attempt by President Moon Jae In to ease tensions between the two countries

The tensions on the Korean peninsula has been on the rise since North Korea vowed to break the peace agreement and resorted to military threats. But South Korean President Moon Jae In isn't giving up on hopes of reconciliation between the two arch rivals.

On Thursday, June 3, South Korea nominated Park Jie Won as the chief of its National Intelligence Service. Park, a four-time MP, was jailed for sending $450 million to North Korea in addition to embezzling $13 million as a commission he received for the transfer.

Jailed for Embezzlement

While in normal circumstances, his appointment would have gone under the radar, this time it won't. Park was the lynchpin in organizing the first inter-Korean summit of 2000 between North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and South Korean President Kim Dae Jung.

Park Jie Won
Park Jie Won will be new chief of South Korea's National Intelligence Service Facebook/ Park Jie Won

However, it came at a cost. During Roh Moo Hyun's presidency, he was accused of embezzling funds. He secretly transferred $450 million to the North to organize the summit and profited $13 million in return. Park was charged and found guilty. He was sentenced to three years in jail in 2006. But he was released in 2007 and was pardoned. That enabled him to run for parliament once again and served three more terms.

"I'd like to thank President Moon Jae-in for nominating me and will devote myself to (the NIS work) with patriotism for history, the Republic of Korea and President Moon," the 70-year-old wrote on Facebook.

Attempt to Ease Tensions

Although President Moon has indicated that Seoul will take retaliatory actions against North Korea if the latter continues to provoke, it seems, he has toned down his approach. Park's appointment is a signal to that statement. Park is known for his close association with north and contacts due to his work during the 2000 summit and Kim Dae Jung's 'Sunshine Policy' to engage Pyongyang.

Through his appointment, Moon is expected to begin a dialogue with Pyongyang again. On Tuesday, June 30, he said, "South Korea will be making its utmost efforts to arrange a meeting between the North and US before the US election."

Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae In
North Korea refused South Korean President Moon Jae In's offer of sending special envoy to ease tension between countries. Instagram

The relations between North and South have not been warm since the Hanoi Summit in 2019 between Pyongyang leaders and Trump. North Korea and the U.S. could not come to an agreement on denuclearization in exchange for lifting economic sanctions.

The peace agreement fell apart after anti-Pyongyang activists sent propaganda leaflets to North using balloons. That angered leadership of Pyongyang and they blew up the joint liaison office at Kaesong last month. South Korea's Unification minister Kim Yeon Chul also resigned taking responsibility for the failure in reaching a peace agreement between the two countries.

However, Moon never gave up on his ambitions of reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula. The rejig in cabinet came after Moon expressed his interest in a meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and the U.S. President Donald Trump before the U.S. Presidential Election in November this year.

Lee In Young New Unification Minister

Continuing that approach, Lee In Young has been nominated as the new Unification Minister. The four-time parliamentarian's first target would be to ease the tensions. In the past, he served as the member of the foreign affairs and unification committee. He was also the chairman of the special committee for inter-Korean economic cooperation in 2018.

Lee In Young
Lee In Young is South Korea's new Unification Minister Facebook/ Lee In Young

He also expressed his strong desire in opening up channels of dialogue with North. "We need to restart dialogue, and examine our process in realizing the commitments we made earlier, including cooperation on the humanitarian and diplomatic fronts that we can initiate right away," he said.

"I complied with the nomination process with the desperate urgency to reopen the way toward peace before the door closes," Lee, who always had an interest in inter-Korean relations, told the media.