South Korean spies target Australian farm trade

South Korean spies target Australian farm trade

CANBERRA - Reuters
South Korean spies target Australian farm trade

Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr refused to comment on the spy issue. REUTERS photo

Agents from South Korea’s spy agency the National Intelligence Service (NIS) have tried to secure secret information about Australian trade, triggering the dismissal of an Australian public servant over his links to the group.

The spy case dates back to 2010 and relates to efforts by South Korea to find information about Australian agricultural trade as the two nations were in early negotiations on a free trade agreement.

Foreign Minister Bob Carr refused yesterday to comment on details of the case, citing “matters of security or intelligence,” but said the issue had caused no diplomatic tension with Seoul. The case is embarrassing for both Australia and South Korea as they try to forge a closer economic relationship.

$32 billion trade volume

South Korea is Australia’s fourth biggest trade partner, with bilateral trade worth more than $32 billion. The two countries launched free trade talks in 2009, but have yet to clinch a deal.

The case became public after Australia’s Federal Court lifted secrecy orders surrounding the incident. The public servant, Yeon Kim, is fighting in the courts to overturn a decision by the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) to strip him of his security clearance, which means he has been effectively sacked from his job in the Agriculture Department. The ASIO found Kim had failed to report contacts with the South Korean officers and that he had been successfully cultivated by South Korea’s NIS.