Kin of S. Korea leader’s killer seek to clear his name

Paju:Forty years after South Korea’s spy chief was executed for shooting dead his boss, dictator Park Chung-hee, the assassin’s sister is seeking to clear him of treason, arguing the killing was in the service of the country.

But she is not seeking to overturn his murder conviction or death sentence, in a reflection of how the South still grapples with Park’s complex legacy.

“A person needs to be punished for killing, ” Kim Jae-gyu’s grey-haired sister Jung-sook, 81, said.

“But my brother did not kill the president so that he could become president or to commit treason against the state.”

Park took power in a 1961 military coup and established a regime that transformed South Korea into a manufacturing powerhouse, but also left the opposition ruthlessly crushed.

He hand-picked Kim Jae-gyu, a friend from their days as military academy classmates, to head the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA), responsible for fending off espionage plots from the North and ensuring the president remained unopposed domestically.

In October 1979, major rallies against Park’s rule broke out in the second city Busan and nearby Masan, infuriating the dictator.

According to Kim, Park’s chief bodyguard Cha Ji-cheol was urging a swift and merciless crackdown, a move the spy boss opposed but the leader was leaning towards.

Questions over Kim’s motives still persist, but what is not in doubt is that he stepped away from the trio’s private, Chivas Regal-fuelled dinner at the KCIA compound in Seoul, fetched a gun from his office and shot both men dead. He fled but was arrested hours later.

Park’s assassination stunned the country and domestic security chief Chun Doo-hwan was appointed to investigate, announcing a week later that a “delusional” Kim had been driven by a “vain desire to become president” and fears his influence was waning.

Within two months, Chun took power in a military coup of his own.

At his trial – which began 41 years ago on Friday – Kim told the court that henchman Cha had suggested “one to two million casualties” in Busan “shouldn’t be an issue”, since Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge already set such a precedent”. — AFP

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