The 24-year-old North Korean defector who successfully made it across the North Korean border and into South Korea under a hail of gunfire was reportedly involved in a crime “that led to a death,” according to South Korean intelligence officials cited in Donga Ilbo, a South Korean newspaper, on Jan. 23.
Chung-sung Oh reportedly confessed to the alleged crime, according to intelligence officials who are investigating his background as part of the standard procedure involving North Korean defectors. The National Intelligence Service, the primary intelligence agency in the country, was said to be looking into all circumstances of the alleged death, including whether it was a murder or an accidental death.
A reporter from Chosun Ilbo, another South Korean news organization, also said he received a similar unconfirmed report in December, in which Oh is believed to have been involved in a vehicle accident involving another person and may have defected in fear of being punished.
Oh, who has been recovering after sustaining multiple gunshot wounds, is said to have a carefree personality, according to government sources. But those sources noted that his testimony seemed to change depending on his mood. The investigation is expected to extend beyond February.
If reports of Oh’s statement proves to be true, it could complicate the proceedings and exclude him from benefits for North Korean defectors, according to the South Korean newspaper. But because the government does not have an extradition treaty with North Korea, Oh does not appear to be at risk of being sent back to the North.
Meanwhile, South Korean intelligence officials have publicly denied Oh’s testimony and said those involved with the matter had “never made a statement of that kind.”
The Ministry of Unification, the government body responsible for inter-Korean relations, said that it could not confirm the account because the investigation was still ongoing.
News surrounding Oh has become a hot-button subject in Korea after footage of his dramatic escape in November was captured in stunning detail. Following Oh’s rescue, those involved in the recovery, including his physician, have been the center of media attention in the country.