Who is So Tae Ha, head of the Japanese abductions investigation?

Here is my latest story in NK News. Mike Madden, who operates North Korea Leadership Watch, said that So Tae Ha, the chairperson of the special investigation committee, is in this photo somewhere.@

timthumb (1).jpg
Former DPRK leader, the late Kim Jong Il, takes part in a tour in May 2009 with Jang Song Taek, Kim Ki Nam, Ri Jae Il, MSS Senior (1st) Vice Minister Gen. U Tong Chuk and former MSS Vice Minister Ryu Kyong. KCNA

Who is So Tae Ha, head of the Japanese abductions investigation?

Vice ministerfs actual role remains unclear, but may be close confidant to Kim Jong Un

July 7th, 2014

Kosuke Takahashi

North Korea announced on Friday that it launched gthe special investigation committeeh to look into the fate of Japanese abductees and other missing people in the North decades ago.

Masked in mystery, one man became the immediate focus of the Japanese intelligence community. That is So Tae Ha, chairman of the special investigation committee. Experts are now trying to figure out his true identity.

Sofs official titles, announced by Pyongyang, are counselor for security at the National Defense Commission (NDC) and vice-minister of the Ministry of State Security (MSS).

The NDC is North Koreafs highest authority and supreme decision-making body. Currently, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is first chairman of the NDC.

The MSS, on the other hand, is a secret police force, or Pyongyangfs equivalent of the KGB. Kim is believed to have the MSS under his direct rule, just as his father Kim Jong Il did by concurrently serving as the head of the MSS for a long time. The MSS is believed to know the whereabouts of all of Japanese abductees as well as the Japanese wives who went to North Korea with their Korean husbands decades ago.

eThe committeefs members are very substantial members of the countryfs national security community, despite having what would seem to outside observers very mid-level jobsf

In 2004 when Pyongyang conducted a reinvestigation into Japanese abductees such as Megumi Yokota, who was kidnapped by North Korean agents in 1977 at the age of 13, the investigation committee was led by the Ministry of Peoplefs Security (MPS), a police organ, but not by the NDC or the MSS. For this reason, North Korea has claimed there were limits on its ability to conduct a thorough investigation into the abductions, which had involved North Koreafs special agencies.

Lee Young-hwa, economics professor at Kansai University in Osaka, told NK News on Monday that several organizations in the Workersf Party of Korea, such as the Operations Department in charge of espionage operations against South Korea, had actually carried out the kidnappings of Japanese.

This time, Pyongyang said the special investigations committee was invested with a gspecial mandateh by the NDC to ginvestigate all institutions and mobilize relevant institutions and persons concerned for the investigation any time necessary.h

Pyongyang also said the committee will be staffed with about 30 officials from relevant institutions including the MSS, the MPS, the Ministry of the Peoplefs Armed Forces and so on, supported by MSS Councilor Kim Myong Chol and MPS Department Director Pak Yong Sik.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said last Thursday that the involvement of North Koreafs national decision-making bodies like the NDC and the MSS in an investigation into Japanese abductees was a decisive factor in his decision to lift some sanctions on Pyongyang.

gThe committeefs members are very substantial members of the countryfs national security community, despite having what would seem to outside observers very mid-level jobs,h said Michael Madden, who operates North Korea Leadership Watch. gBased on some conversations Ifve had with someone tied to the committeefs establishment they will have a lot of power but there is not a very clear idea whether what they turn up will satisfy the Prime Minister Abe.h

Madden said So is a lieutenant general from the Korean Peoplefs Army (KPA) and that he was one of the officials who replaced Ryu Kyong, who had been dismissed as vice minister of the MSS and executed in 2011. Ryu had been well-known as gMr. Xh in Japan, acting as negotiator with then-chief of the Ministry of Foreign Affairsf Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau Hitoshi Tanaka at the 2002 Japan-North Korea summit, where then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Kim Jong Il first met in Pyongyang.


Although all vice ministers and vice directors have a specific portfolio such as organization, liaison or inspections, Sofs current portfolio is still unclear.

Madden even said that So may not formally be a vice minister, and that it may be just a job title used externally in the media or during diplomatic exchanges, not reflecting his real position. Like other State Security personnel he has a KPA military rank, but he doesnft sit in the chain of command of the KPA General Staff or Ministry of the Peoplefs Armed Forces, Madden said.

At a press conference last Thursday, Japanfs Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga also said that Sofs title as counselor for security at the NDC was gcreated out of necessity in order to name him as chairman of the Special Investigative Committee.h He said g(So) will be in charge of the countryfs security issues at a vice minister level.h

Madden also pointed out that So is one of approximately eight NDC councilors, which is a powerful position usually held concurrent with another job. He is most likely part of a group of senior officials who are members of what are sometimes called sangmujo, which First Secretary Kim Jong Un inherited from his father Secretary General Kim Jong Il.


e(So) had penetrating eyes. He had power in his eyesf

Kenji Fujimoto: Kosuke Takahashi

Among Japanese citizens, there is one man who has actually met So Tae Ha. It is Kenji Fujimoto, who worked as Kim Jong Ilfs personal sushi chef and was Kim Jong Unfs childhood friend. On Sunday Fujimoto told NK News he met So in 1995 at Mokrangwan, a guest house in the center of Pyongyang.

Two hours into the party, attended by several dozen party executives, Kim Jong Il ordered the head of the secretarial office to bring in other senior party members immediately.

gIt was past nine ofclock,h he said. gThere or four people came to the party. Among them was So Tae Ha.h

Fujimoto said his translator had identified So for him.

gThe translator said, eHe is from the secret police and he is quite a go-getter or hotshot. He will succeed in the future for sure,fh Fujimoto said.

gHe was around 50 at that time. He had penetrating eyes. He had power in his eyes.h

Fujimoto spent 1989 to 2001 as Kim Jong Ilfs sushi chef, and was abruptly invited back to the North in 2012, not long after his former bossf death and Kim Jong Unfs ascension to supreme leader of North Korea. Fujimoto believes So is gdefinitelyh Kim Jong Unfs closest confidant now.

gI now suspect So advised him to issue the NDCfs invitation letter for me in 2012, when I first hesitated to go to Pyongyang despite Mr. Kim Jong Unfs invitation,h he said.
posted by Kosuke at 22:30| Comment(0) | NK News