The names of additional Korean diplomats are being linked to the woman, triggering suspicion of a systematic spying scheme by China and the possibility of a diplomatic row between Seoul and Beijing. There are also suspicions she was a visa broker.
The scandal is the latest brush of tarnish for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which has been accused of lax management of diplomatic personnel.
The public ethics division at the Prime Minister’s Office said two of the three diplomats confessed to “inappropriate relationships” with the Chinese woman during a recent investigation. One of them later resigned over the affair, it said.
The government agencies that dispatched the diplomats to Shanghai, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, are now conducting investigations of their own, it said.
“We opened an investigation at the end of last year after receiving a tip from a person complaining about the three diplomats,” said an official in the Prime Minister’s Office.
The official said a tipster complained to the Prime Minister’s Office that the diplomats, all former consuls in Shanghai, were having inappropriate relationships with the woman, who was identified as being surnamed Deng, 33-years-old and married to a Korean. The 37-year-old Korean husband told Korean media that he complained about the diplomats to the Korean government.
The Prime Minister’s Office said the tipster claimed the three consuls provided visas to Deng and her acquaintances. They also gave her information from the Korean Consulate in Shanghai, it said.
The two diplomats, who were assigned to Shanghai by the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Knowledge Economy, admitted to all three charges, the office said. “They confessed that their relationships with the woman damaged their marriages,” said the official.
The third consul, who was sent from the Foreign Ministry, allegedly admitted to giving information and visas, but not having an inappropriate relationship, the official said.
The Prime Minister’s Office gave the results of its investigation to the Knowledge Economy Ministry and the Foreign Ministry last month, requesting proper measures to be taken, the official said. It didn’t give the results to the Justice Ministry because the consul it sent to Shanghai resigned during the investigation, the official said.
Unlike ambassadors and other embassy officials managed by the Foreign Ministry, Korean consuls are dispatched by various government agencies.
The information known to have been given to Deng included the contact numbers of around 200 high-profile figures in Korean politics and business, the emergency telephone numbers of the Korean Consulate in Shanghai and information related to the issuance of visas. A Justice Ministry official said there was no serious leakage of information from the consul it sent.
But suspicions linger that Deng was a spy working for the Chinese government, given her alleged influence in China. Kim Jung-ki, former Consul General in Shanghai, told reporters that he considered Deng a person with considerable influence based on her close relationship with Chinese authorities.
He said she helped diplomats, politicians and government officials visiting from Korea meet top leaders in the city, including the Communist Party secretary and the mayor, meetings that couldn’t be arranged by an ordinary resident. Another rumor said that Deng is related to former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping.
The Prime Minister’s Office said it acquired photos of Deng from the tipster that show her in close poses with the three Koreans. She also had copies of the diplomats’ passports, the office said.
Deng’s photos also showed former Korean consuls, including former Consul General Kim, raising suspicions that Deng made contact with Korean consuls systemically to get access to information. Kim denied that he had a close relationship with Deng.
The consul sent by the Foreign Ministry claimed innocence, saying the close pose with Deng was necessary because it was a close-up shot, according to the ministry. He said the information he gave her wasn’t secret, the ministry said. “Until now, our investigation based on statements from the person has not confirmed any suspicions,” a ministry official said.
The Foreign Ministry is trying to distance itself from the scandal, saying the two consuls admitting romantic relationships with Deng are from other ministries. But Foreign Ministry officials are concerned the scandal will further tarnish the ministry’s image after a nepotism scandal involving former Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan last year.
Deng’s Korean husband told Yonhap News Agency that he first met Deng in 2001 in Shanghai when he was working at an office of a Korean company. They married that year and have a 7-year-old daughter.
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