S. Korea intelligence official dead in hacking scandal

SEOUL - A South Korean intelligence official has been found dead in an apparent suicide amid a growing political scandal over a covert hacking programme used by the country's spy agency, police said Sunday.

The 45-year-old from the National Intelligence Service (NIS) was discovered dead in his car Saturday on a mountain road in Yongin, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) south of Seoul.

Shim Dong-Soo, an investigator in Yongin, told a cable news network that the man apparently took his own life.

Yonhap news agency said a handwritten will left in the car mentioned the hacking programme, which allows users to track smartphones and computers by installing spyware.

There has been no official confirmation of any link between the man and the programme, with police and the NIS so far withholding information on the case.

Government and NIS officials have admitted purchasing the programme from an Italian company but insist it was not used to monitor South Koreans but to boost Seoul's cyber warfare capabilities against Pyongyang.

Opposition legislators, however, argued the NIS has used the programme to spy on South Koreans.

The spy agency had a notorious reputation in the decades of authoritarian rule before South Korea embraced democracy in the 1980s.

The modern-day NIS has been tainted by a series of scandals, including election meddling.

Last week the Supreme Court ordered a lower court to review its conviction of former NIS chief Won Sei-Hoon who was jailed for three years on charges of illegally engaging in political acts.

The charges related to an online smear campaign by NIS agents against the opposition party candidate whom the current president, Park Geun-Hye, defeated in the 2012 poll by a narrow margin.

Won, 64, initially received a suspended sentence, but an appeals court in February handed down a three-year custodial sentence.

The Supreme Court declined to rule on Won's guilt, but ordered the High Court to re-examine what it described as deficient evidence regarding crucial emails and tweets.