SEOUL, South Korea – Police said Monday they were investigating a mysterious break-in at a visiting Indonesian official's hotel room in Seoul as local media reported that South Korean spies had tried to steal documents about a possible arms deal.
Last Wednesday, three people broke into a Seoul hotel room used by an aide to the leader of a visiting Indonesian delegation, police officer Shin Seong-chul said. The two men and one woman used a USB flash drive to copy files from one of two laptop computers in the room. The aide returned while the intruders were there, but they soon fled and no clash was reported, police said.
South Korean defense officials who had been guiding the Indonesians reported the break-in to police. The laptops were handed over for an investigation, but the Indonesian aide requested their return the next day and said he wouldn't allow access to the computers.
On Monday, South Korea's mass-circulation Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported that the intruders were agents from the National Intelligence Service, the country's main spy agency. The paper, citing an unidentified South Korean government official, said the agents were trying to steal information on Indonesia's strategy on negotiations over South Korea's push to sell trainer jets, missiles and other weapons.
The Hankyoreh newspaper carried a similar report Monday, saying the trespassers were believed to be South Korean intelligence agents. The paper cited an unidentified person it said had knowledge of the break-in.
A South Korean intelligence spokesman dismissed the Chosun Ilbo report as baseless, but didn't elaborate. The spokesman spoke on condition of anonymity, citing agency rules.
In Jakarta, a spokesman for Indonesia's Defense Ministry, Brig. Gen. I Wayan Midhio, also denied the report, saying a South Korean man had mistakenly entered the wrong room and that the documents didn't include confidential details about a possible arms deal.
Still, Indonesia's ambassador in Seoul asked South Korea on Monday to look into the reported espionage. South Korean officials were examining the case and plan to inform Indonesia of their finding, Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Byung-jae told reporters.
South Korean National Intelligence Service officials worked through various channels to resolve the matter, the Chosun Ilbo reported, suggesting they may have lobbied Indonesia to hush up the break-in.
The newspaper said the break-in occurred when most of the Indonesian delegates were away from the hotel at a meeting with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak. Lee's office confirmed Wednesday's meeting but declined to comment on the break-in.
South Korean police didn't have enough time to find out what documents, if any, were stolen from the Indonesian laptops because the Indonesian aide requested their return so soon after they were handed over, Shin said.
However, Shin said his office would continue to investigate camera footage it obtained from the hotel, along with other materials he didn't identify.
Associated Press writer Ali Kotarumalos contributed to this report from Jakarta, Indonesia.