Won Jeong-hwa is a 40-year-old single mother living in a small town outside of Seoul, South Korea. She is unemployed and survives on a monthly government stipend of $800 a month. Won is also a former North Korean spy who used sex as her main weapon.
She was just released from prison after serving a five-year sentence for espionage charges related to her use of sex and other tactics to obtain South Korean military secrets that she could then take back to the North Korean government. She now sits in her apartment all day, depressed and unable to get a job due to her past, The Associated Press reports.
Won was jailed in South Korea in 2008 after a court ruled that she, posing as a North Korean defector, used sex to get secrets from South Korean military officers. The media humiliated her when they began referring to her as “North Korea’s Mata Hari,” referencing an exotic dancer from the Netherlands who also used sex to obtain military information during World War I.
According to the 2008 verdict, North Korea sent Won to South Korea in 2001 to take photographs of U.S. military installations and to collect South Korean newspapers containing stories about the North. The verdict also said that she slept with many South Korean officers and officials. Officials from Pyongyang have said that South Korea is simply trying to create a spy scandal to tarnish the North’s image.
Prosecutors have dismissed Won’s claims that her sexual escapades were fabricated. According to interviews and trial documents, Won claims that prosecutors pressured her into providing false statements and exaggerated her use of sex as a spying tool. “They manufactured (the story of) my relations with men,” she said, “I’m not a Mata Hari.”
Several people who met her while she was in South Korea during 2008 said that often times she was disoriented and incoherent. “I believe that she was exploited as an informant. … She wasn’t even worth being called a spy,” said one of the people she met. They believe there is no way she was the highly-trained spy she has claimed to be.
Won enjoyed small media fame after permanently defecting form North Korea and ending her life as a spy, talking on T.V. shows about North Korea and her training as an elite spy. However once Won’s stepfather said in a 2007 interview that Won was nothing more than a high school dropout who had nothing to do with military intelligence, the media shunned her.
“I’ve though about killing myself many times,” Won said in an interview. “I’ve told my daughter she should go to an orphanage because she’d be happier living there. I want to move to a country where no one knows me.”