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North Korean Spy Poses as Filipino Scholar

July 22, 1996

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ A North Korean man convinced Seoul authorities he was a Filipino history professor, then spied on South Korea for 12 years, South Korea’s spy agency said Monday.

The case is the first in which a North Korean spy ``has successfully disguised himself as a foreigner for such a long time,″ the agency said in a televised news conference.

The man, who called himself Mohamad Ali Kanso and taught at Seoul’s Dankook University, was caught July 3 while sending a fax to North Korea from a Seoul hotel, the Agency for National Security Planning said. His reports covered South Korea and U.S. policies on the communist state and South Korea’s latest arms procurement programs, it said.

Kanso is really Chung Su Il, a North Korean born in China who came to South Korea in 1984 after convincing authorities he was a Filipino, the agency said. The 62-year-old Chung once worked as an interpreter for the late North Korean leader Kim Il Sung.

Authorities said they discovered more than 160 spy items _ including code books and a poison capsule for suicide _ hidden at his Seoul home, some behind a framed doctor’s certificate hanging on the wall.

His case was referred to prosecutors Monday for indictment. Under South Korean law, Chung can be sentenced to death. North and South Korea fought a bloody war in the early 1950s and remain technically at war.

In a videotaped confession shown during the news conference, Chung said he was an ethnic Korean born in China and graduated from Beijing University, majoring in Arabic.

He worked at the Chinese Embassy in Morocco in 1958-1963, but grew unhappy with what he said was Beijing’s discrimination toward the minority Korean community and emigrated to North Korea in 1964.

In North Korea, the agency said, he worked as an Arabic interpreter for Kim Il Sung in the 1960s and early 1970s while teaching at the Pyongyang Foreign Language University.

In 1974, he was recruited as a spy. Facial features unusual for an ethnic Korean _ including a dark complexion, eyelids that don’t look east-Asian and a beard _ helped his disguise, the agency said.

In South Korea, he married a nurse, although he has a wife and three children in North Korea.