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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Seoul Diplomat Accused of Spying




A South Korean diplomat has been accused of spying and will leave Russia before Tuesday evening, while his alleged Russian Foreign Ministry contact will be charged with treason, Interfax reported Monday.


The South Korean diplomat, identified as Cho Seong-ho, was detained by Federal Security Service officials as he met with an alleged Russian contact on Friday. He was released after questioning and did not explain where he had gotten classified Russian Foreign Ministry documents found in his briefcase.


Seoul's Foreign Ministry said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yury Ushakov notified the South Korean ambassador that Cho was classified as persona non grata. The Foreign Ministry also ordered Cho to leave Russia within three days for "illegal activities incompatible with his diplomatic status."


South Korea is reviewing the incident, and has not yet decided whether to take retaliatory measures. However, a South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman expressed dismay that Seoul was not consulted before Russia decided to expel Cho.


South Korea summoned Russia's charge d'affaires to demand an explanation for the detention of Cho and for the "unilateral" order giving him three days to leave the country, officials said.


Deputy Foreign Minister Sun Joon-young told the Russian Embassy's Valery Suhinen that South Korea "strongly regretted" the move as a violation of diplomatic conventions. He insisted that Seoul should have been consulted.


He also "demanded a proper explanation" of Moscow's action, saying that Cho's two-hour detention Saturday at the home of a Russian official apparently violated the Vienna Convention on diplomatic rights.


South Korea is considering taking retaliatory action if its investigations into the incident prove Cho was not involved in spying.


"Our government reserves the right to take appropriate measures in accordance with a full investigation into the case," another Foreign Ministry official warned.


South Korea's objections, which include the Russian media being alerted to Cho's detention before Seoul was informed of the incident, will be passed on to Moscow by Suhinen.


Russia's Ambassador to South Korea, Yevgeny Afansiev, is on leave in Russia.


Seoul is set to investigate the incident when Cho arrives back in South Korea later Monday, but already the Foreign Ministry is indicating that the government believes him to be innocent of the espionage charges.


"As far as we know, Mr. Cho was carrying out his normal diplomatic activities and he has never undermined Russia's internal security," a ministry official was quoted by the Yonhap news agency as saying.


Cho's alleged Russian contact faces up to 20 years in prison if found guilty of treason. Interfax reported that he is Valentin Moiseyev, the deputy director of the first department of Asia.


Boris Neuchev, deputy head of the Federal Security Service's public relations center, said Russia has "ample proof of the suspect's criminal activity," Interfax reported.


Seoul and Moscow established diplomatic ties in 1990 after decades of estrangement when the Soviet Union supported rival North Korea.