South Korea's spy chief said Thursday he couldn’t give comments if any ransom was paid to free 21 Christian aid workers held by Taliban militants in Afghanistan. Does it mean that earlier remarks that no ransom was paid were false?
Kim Man-bok, head of the National Intelligence Service, told a parliamentary intelligence committee that the truth surrounding the six-week hostage drama would be made public someday.
Kim's comments contrasted with a flat denial that he and the Seoul government gave earlier amid persistent claims that ransom money was paid to the insurgents.
"I can't confirm that. Various things happened and they will be revealed as time passes," Kim Man-bok told a parliamentary intelligence committee, according to Sun Byung-ryul, a committee secretary.
Kim, who traveled to Afghanistan to direct negotiations with the Taliban kidnappers, was responding to a question by a lawmaker over whether there was any ransom payment or undisclosed dealings to bring back the hostages from Afghanistan, Sun said in a telephone interview.
Kim earlier said there was no money deal with the Taliban, who he said had agreed to let the Christian aid workers go home after South Korea reconfirmed plans to withdraw its 200 troops from Afghanistan and deter Christian missionaries from traveling to the country.
"I thought he would flatly deny the ransom payment," said Sun, a member of the pro-government United New Democratic Party. "Kim only said he can't reveal every detail taking place during negotiations with the Taliban. Various speculations and questions might surface," he said.
The intelligence service declined to confirm Sun's remarks.
Sun also raised speculation that the Taliban might have released the hostages in exchange for a promise that Taliban prisoners held in Afghan government prisons would be set free. The prisoner release was a key demand by the Taliban, but there was no mention of this issue in the deal between South Korea and the group.
"After today's committee meeting, I felt negotiations are not over and the Taliban prisoners might be secretly released or through court rulings later," Sun said.
Kim has been criticized for appearing too much in the public eye while overseeing the hostage negotiations.
South Korean opposition lawmakers have demanded Kim resign, criticizing him for inappropriate behavior as the spy chief and claiming he sought public recognition ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled next April. Kim has said he has no intention to run in the polls.
Repeated calls to several lawmakers who attended the parliamentary committee meeting were unanswered.