Won Jeong-hwa, the 34-year-old North Korean native, was arrested during the summer along with her 63-year-old stepfather and accused of engaging in espionage and deceit for seven years after defecting to South Korea. Under questioning, she detailed for investigators a double life working for one of the world's most repressive regimes.
The case of Won, only the second North Korean spy to face trial here in the last decade, has riveted the South Korean public and embarrassed the nation's vaunted intelligence network.
After arriving in 2001 at Seoul's Incheon airport, Won was touted by South Korean authorities as a model defector and assigned to tour military bases to lecture troops on the evils of the Stalinist state. All the while, prosecutors said, she pursued her real agenda: collecting photos of military installations and weapons systems and keeping lists of North Korean defectors and personal data about Southern military officers.
[Some say] Won seriously damaged the cause of the 15,000 legitimate North Korean defectors now living in the South.
"There's already a deeply embedded reluctance by South Korean society to accept these people. Now there's an excuse for people to give in to their worst instincts," said Tim Peters, a Christian activist and founder of Helping Hands Korea, a defector support group.
"People may use this spy case in an amplified and exaggerated way to say: 'This is what we were afraid of. Let's put on the brakes and protect our economy rather than help those poor North Korean relatives sitting on our doorstep.' "