Meet the Billionaire Dreamer Taking Musk’s Rocket to the Moon


(Bloomberg) — In a country known for conformity, Yusaku Maezawa has always sought to stand out.

He skipped college, moved to California to play in a rock band and started his own e-commerce company. After making it big, the 42-year-old started dropping hundreds of millions of dollars on artwork. Now the billionaire founder of Start Today Co. is set to become the first paying passenger to the moon on a SpaceX rocket scheduled to blast off in 2023. It’s the latest headline-grabbing project by Maezawa, whose Twitter handle is @yousuck2020.

While Maezawa is relatively unknown outside of the archipelago and the art world, he’s guaranteed to become more famous with his plan to fly to Earth’s biggest satellite with a cabal of artists. A self-professed art lover, the Japanese entrepreneur intends to take a combination of painters, musicians, dancers, photographers, film directors, fashion designers and architects on a week-long lunar loop, where he’ll get to watch as they get inspired and create art along the way.

“I thought long and hard about how valuable it would be to be the first passenger to the moon,” Maezawa said at an announcement at Space Exploration Technologies Corp.’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California, sitting next to the rocket company’s CEO, Elon Musk. “I choose to go to the moon with artists.”

The flight around the moon is a marriage of Maezawa’s diverse interests: to be a visionary, to support art and to promote his company. Taking the enormous personal risk of orbiting the moon as the first private citizen would cement him in history books. Maezawa said he hopes the art created during the trip will inspire more interest and support for artists. Maezawa and Musk declined to say how much the lunar trip would cost.

“This is not us choosing him,” Musk said. “He chose us. He is a very brave person to do this.”

Maezawa made a name and fortune for himself by defying the norms of Japanese society. A former drummer in a rock band, he built shopping website Zozotown, a popular destination for younger consumers, from a mail-order music album business.

HAWTHORNE, CA - SEPTEMBER 17:  SpaceX CEO Elon Musk (L) shakes hands with Yusaka Maezawa, the Japanese billionaire chosen by the company to fly around the moon, on September 17, 2018 in Hawthorne, California. If the project is successful, Maezawa would become the first private citizen to fly around the moon. © Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images HAWTHORNE, CA – SEPTEMBER 17: SpaceX CEO Elon Musk (L) shakes hands with Yusaka Maezawa, the Japanese billionaire chosen by the company to fly around the moon, on September 17, 2018, in Hawthorne, California. If the project is successful, Maezawa would become the first private citizen to fly around the moon. With a net worth of $2.3 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Maezawa made a splash in the art world in 2017 when he spent $110.5 million on a single Jean-Michel Basquiat painting at a Sotheby’s auction, setting a record for an American artist’s work at the time. By then, Maezawa had already bought several Basquiat pieces.

Maezawa has funded his art binge by selling shares in the company he founded. He sold about $250 million worth of stock in 2016 and used most of it to add to his art collection over the following two years. In May, Start Today said he had sold about 23 billion yen ($205 million) worth of the company’s shares. He has not announced major art purchases so far this year, suggesting at least some of the funds may have been used to participate in Musk’s mission.

“I love art, so I want to see what artists will collaborate on together and see it directly with my eyes,” Maezawa said.

Maezawa has long stood out in the Japanese corporate world. In a place where company executives maintain low-key lifestyles and keep out of the spotlight, the billionaire is active on social media, sharing snippets from lavish meals or vacations, and regularly makes headlines in the Japanese entertainment world for dating young, popular actresses.

The first would-be civilian passenger to the moon was already signaling his interest in outer space before the announcement. Maezawa first mentioned in a Twitter post in 2015 that his “eyes were opened,” after touring NASA and talking to astronauts. A year later, he told Japan’s News picks online magazine he wanted to try his hand in space. In April, he tweeted that space is one of his main “hobbies,” along with art and wine.

“Ever since I was a kid, I have loved the moon,” Maezawa said. “Just staring at the moon filled my imagination. It’s always there and has continued to inspire humanity. That’s why I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to see the moon up close.”

Asked about his health and fitness for the trip, Maezawa said he hasn’t yet begun preparing or even deciding what kind of training is necessary. He’ll be in his late 40s if the mission goes ahead on schedule. Musk praised Maezawa’s bravery for seeking to be the first passenger on the trip. “This is dangerous, to be clear,” Musk said.

Maezawa regularly injects his visions for humanity into interviews and speeches: world peace, universal income and letting every person reach his or her full potential. In an essay last month, he said gross domestic product was an inadequate way to measure progress. Instead, he called for the economic indicator to be replaced with one built around feelings of gratitude.

Building on the success of Start Today’s Zozo brand, Maezawa intends to turn his company into a global retailer, with the goal of being one of the world’s top 10 clothiers within a decade. His first step toward that has been a body-measuring, skintight suit called the Zozosuit, which is used to sell a line of made-to-fit private label basic wear and business suits. The company will be renamed Zozo Inc. from October.

In an interview with Bloomberg News in July, Maezawa talked about his love for making things. Maezawa didn’t attend college, instead moving to California to play in a band after high school. The experience inspired the beginnings of the business of Start Today — named after an album by the punk band Gorilla Biscuits — as he began to sell music CDs in Japan.

“No matter what, I wanted to do different things compared to other people,” Maezawa said. “I was like that as a child and now as well. And the desire to do something different is connected to wanting to do it before anyone else.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Lisa Du in Tokyo at;Yuji Nakamura in Tokyo at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Robert Fenner at, ;K. Oanh Ha at, Reed Stevenson, Jeff Sutherland

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.


North and South Korean leaders embrace as they meet for summit


The North and South Korean leaders have embraced one another as they arrived in Pyongyang for their third summit together.

A smiling Kim Jong Un embraced South Korean president Moon Jae upon his arrival.

His Pyongyang trip makes him the third South Korean leader to visit North Korea’s capital for an inter-Korean summit.

Mr Moon is to meet Mr. Kim at least twice – later on, Tuesday and then again on Wednesday before returning home on Thursday.

a group of people posing for the camera: northkoreasouthkoreasummit.jpg © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited northkoreasouthkoreasummit.jpg

President Moon Jae-in is welcomed by Kim Jong Un (AP)

The two have met to discuss further talks on denuclearisation and the prospect of officially ending the Korean War.

Hundreds of North Koreans wearing suits and traditional dresses also greeted Moon, carrying flowers and waving Korean peninsula and North Korean flags. A sign behind them reads: “We ardently welcome President Moon Jae-in’s visit to Pyongyang!”

Mr Moon said: “This summit would be very meaningful if it yielded a resumption of North Korea-US talks,”

“It’s very important for South and North Korea to meet frequently, and we are turning to a phase where we can meet anytime we want.”

© Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited

Fernando Haddad aims to be Brazil’s new Lula – but does anyone know who he is?


Wearing a red sweatshirt emblazoned with the image of a Brazil’s former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Fernando Haddad and his entourage piled out of a minibus and marched up the main street of the Rocinha favela, as a band in orange overalls beat out samba rhythms.

Haddad, an earnest intellectual, expert in Marxist theory and former mayor of São Paulo, has until 7 October to convince 147 million Brazilian voters he should be their next president – even though one recent poll showed that more than a third of them have no idea who he is.

Haddad’s leftwing Workers’ Party (PT) is hoping that Lula – who last week dropped his prison-cell bid for re-election – can transfer enough votes to his protege to get him through to a runoff vote on 28 October.

Haddad has centered his campaign on a promise to reverse swingeing austerity measures and boost spending to drag the country out of its worst ever recession.

“We combine fiscal responsibility with social responsibility,” Haddad, 55, told the Guardian. “We are not going to sacrifice the people anymore. Without public investment, without families spending, without cheap credit, the economy won’t recover.”

But swapping a formidably popular former president for a candidate who many still do not know is not going to be easy.

The PT appeared to recognize the scale of the challenge in a recent campaign video, which shows Brazilians struggling to say the candidate’s name before learning to repeat: “Haddad is Lula, Lula is Haddad.”

Until this month, when Brazil’s top electoral court barred him from running, Lula was campaigning from behind bars after he was given a 12-year sentence for corruption and money laundering.

Haddad was only confirmed as the PT candidate on 11 September – less than a month before the election; he has a lot of ground to cover, and not much time.

The latest polls suggest that he is about 10 percentage points behind the far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro, who is still in hospital after he was stabbed during a campaign event.

In Rocinha, some voters had already decided for Haddad. “Of course I will vote for him, my whole family will,” said Regina Carvalho, 55, minding a street stall.

“Lula was awesome,” said Antonio Casanova, 37, a motorbike taxi driver. “Many people will vote for whoever he says.”

But even in Lula’s home state of Pernambuco, many residents shook their heads when asked to identify his replacement. In Brasíia Teimosa, a heavily pro-PT favela in the city of Recife, Maria do Carmo da Silva, 63 apologized as she struggled to name the party’s candidate – even though a large propaganda sticker of Lula and Haddad adorned her seafront home.

Despite knowing nothing of Haddad’s background, Da Silva said she would back him “because he’s from Lula’s party. I’ve seen him on the television promising that he will do what Lula did. I trust him.”

Her neighbor, 70-year-old Maria José dos Santos, was also unable to name Lula’s stand-in but agreed. “I can swallow him,” the retired maid said. “But I’d prefer Lula.”

Others were less certain. Social worker Luiz Ferreira said he admired Lula for helping the poor even though he believed he was guilty of corruption. “But I’m not voting for Haddad. For starters, I don’t know who he is,” he said.

The son of a Lebanese shopkeeper father and teacher mother of Lebanese descent, Haddad and his dentist and academic wife Ana Estela have two children. He graduated in law, before taking a master’s in economics and a doctorate in philosophy at the University of São Paulo.

In Recife, Maria does Carmo da Silva said she would back Haddad, ‘because he’s from Lula’s party’ – despite knowing nothing of Haddad’s background. Photograph: Tom Phillips for the Guardian

In Recife, Maria do Carmo da Silva said she would back Haddad, ‘because he’s from Lula’s party’ – despite knowing nothing of Haddad’s background. © The Guardian In Recife, Maria do Carmo da Silva said she would back Haddad, ‘because he’s from Lula’s party’ – despite knowing nothing of Haddad’s background.

Haddad’s biggest advantage is that his political patron is the most successful politician in the country’s recent history. But it’s also his biggest problem: many Brazilians still love Lula for helping bring 36 million people out of poverty during the country’s boom years – but others despise him for the rampant political corruption and the economic bust that followed.

A third of electors say they would vote for whoever Lula recommends. Another third would not vote for Lula under any circumstances.

Top PT figures have said Lula would choose all the ministers in a Haddad government – and receive a presidential pardon. Haddad, who is registered as Lula’s lawyer, regularly visits the former president in prison and said he doesn’t want a pardon.

“He wants his innocence declared because he did not commit a crime,” Haddad told the Guardian. But he said nothing to clear doubts over Lula’s possible role in a future government. “Why would I stop talking to someone I have known for 20 years, and who I judge to be innocent?” he said.

Both men oversaw their party’s manifesto, which promises to overturn austerity measures and privatizations introduced by Michel Timer’s conservative government, and pledges to kickstart a moribund economy with infrastructure works financed by $40bn of Brazil’s international reserves.

It also calls for tax cuts for the poor, higher taxes for the rich, increased protections for LGBT people and demarcation of indigenous lands.

Haddad said he has been quietly meeting investors spooked by fears that a PT government won’t address Brazil’s huge deficit. “The debt can increase a little in two years then go back to declining,” he said. “Serious people really trust our governments because we already ran the country for 12 years.”

Under Lula, the economy surged thanks to a commodity boom which also enabled massive poverty-relief programmes. But under his successor Dilma Rousseff, commodity prices fell and Brazil tumbled into a crippling recession, exacerbated by the impacts of a sprawling corruption scandal, which ensnared top PT figures and their political allies.

Fury over corruption propelled Rousseff’s impeachment in 2016 for breaking budget rules. Leftists maintain this was a judicial coup.

Plenty of Brazilians feel the case against Lula – a separate scandal involving a seaside apartment allegedly given to him by a construction company – was either concocted to remove him from the race or was simply unfair, given the vast amounts pocketed by other politicians.

Yet only the most loyal partisans believe PT protestations that only isolated party figures were involved in what prosecutors described as an institutionalized, multi-party, multibillion-dollar corruption network.

On the evening of his Rocinha visit, Haddad faced aggressive questioning on TV Globo’s flagship news programme over PT corruption in general and charges he faces over allegations of illegal donations in his 2012 mayoral campaign.

Visibly sweating, Haddad struggled to answer, before racing to a rally in central Rio where speakers angrily accused the TV network of being part of the same right-wing conspiracy that toppled Rousseff.

Standing in the crowd, street vendor Wendell de Oliveira, 23, admitted that he was unsure about Haddad, who lacks Lula’s earthy charisma but delivered a powerful, impassioned speech.

As the crowd cleared after the rally, a couple danced to Haddad’s folksy campaign song in the light rain, De Oliveira changed his mind. “I would vote for him,” he said.

Additional reporting by Tom Phillips in Recife.

Russian military spy plane ‘accidentally shot down by Syrian defenses’ with 14 people on board


A Russian military jet is believed to have been inadvertently shot down in Syria.

The Russian Defence Ministry says it lost contact with an IL-20 turboprop plane, which had 14 people on board, near Khmeimim Airbase in Syria.

The jet disappeared off radar around the same time that Israeli and French forces were mounting aerial attacks on targets in Syria.

The aircraft is believed to have been accidentally shot down by Syrian defences while firing at incoming Israeli missiles.

A US government official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said it believed the plane, used for electronic reconnaissance, was downed by anti-aircraft artillery.

Around the time the plane disappeared, the Syrian coastal city of Latakia – near a Russian airbase to which the IL-20 was returning – came under attack from “enemy missiles”, and missile defence batteries responded.

The defence ministry in Moscow said the aircraft was returning to the Russian-run Khmeymim airbase in Latakia province when, at about 11.00pm Moscow time (8pm GMT) on Monday, it disappeared from radar screens.

The plane was over the Mediterranean Sea about 35 km (20 miles) from the Syrian coastline, Russia’s TASS news agency quoted the ministry as saying in a statement.

“The trace of the Il-20 on flight control radars disappeared during an attack by four Israeli F-16 jets on Syrian facilities in Latakia province,” the statement was quoted as saying.

a group of people riding on the back of a truck © Credits: “At the same time Russian air control radar systems detected rocket launches from the French frigate Auvergne which was located in that region.”

The fate of the 14 people on board the missing plane is unknown, and a rescue operation has been organised out of the Hmeymim base, the ministry said.

Russia’s military operation in Syria, which began in late 2015, has turned the tide of the conflict in favour of Moscow’s ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in his fight against rebels.

But it has come at a cost to Russia.

In December 2016, a Russian plane carrying dozens of Red Army choir singers, dancers and musicians crashed into the Black Sea on the way to Syria, killing all 92 people on board.

In March this year, a Russian military transport plane crashed when coming in to land at the Hmeymim base, killing all 39 people on board.

Multiple countries have military operations underway around Syria, with forces on the ground or launching strikes from the air or from ships in the Mediterranean.

In some cases, those countries are backing opposing sides in the Syrian conflict.

Hotlines are in place for those countries to share operational information on their deployments, but diplomats and military planners say there is still a high risk of one state inadvertently striking another country’s forces.

Russia: UK’s novichok interview allegations ‘absurd’

It is absurd to accuse Russia of lying about the two men accused of poisoning the Skripals in Salisbury, the Kremlin has said.

Commentators have expressed incredulity after Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov told the Kremlin-funded TV channel Russia Today that they were in Salisbury on 3 March as tourists to visit the cathedral and nearby Stonehenge.

The Kremlin added that it would consider a British request to interview the two men, but had not received one.

Mr Boshirov (left) and Mr Petrov were named as suspects by the UK © Other Mr Boshirov (left) and Mr Petrov were named as suspects by the UK Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said any request would be looked at “in strict accordance with Russian law” while denying any Russian involvement in the poisonings.

Britain has charged Petrov and Boshirov with attempting to murder Sergei Skripal, a former Russian spy, and his daughter Yulia by spraying the nerve agent novichok on his door in the Wiltshire city.

Novichok suspects. Pic: Russia Today © Other Novichok suspects. Pic: Russia Today The two men have suggested they are the victims of a “fantastical coincidence” and would like an apology from the real prisoners.

British intelligence found the novichok was stored in a fake Nina Ricci perfume bottle, but the two suspects said that would be a ridiculous way for them to transport poison, which they denied having, as it would be “silly for decent lads” to have women’s perfume.

Downing Street has rubbished claims that they simply wanted to see the sights of Wiltshire, describing them as “lies”.

Theresa May’s spokesman said the suspects’ comments were “an insult” and “deeply offensive”.

“The lies and blatant fabrications in this interview given to a Russian state-sponsored TV station are an insult to the public’s intelligence,” he said.

“More importantly, they are deeply offensive to the victims and loved ones of this horrific attack.”

On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the two men had been identified by the Kremlin and insisted they were civilians and “not criminals”.

Hurricane Helene: “Danger to life” warning for the UK as the major storm packing 80mph winds threatens travel chaos


A “danger to life” wind warning has been issued for parts of the UK with the remnants of former hurricane Helene expected to slam into the country early next week.

Currently a tropical storm, Helene is bringing 80mph gusts that could send debris flying, disrupt travel and cut power to thousands of homes and businesses.

The Met Office said: “Storm Helene is expected to push north-east towards the UK late Monday, before clearing quickly to the north of Scotland through Tuesday morning.

“There remains large uncertainty in Helene’s exact track, however a spell of very strong winds is expected, initially for parts of south-west England and west Wales, then later south-west Scotland and the south-east of Northern Ireland.

a close up of a map: A wind warning has been issued for the areas in yellow © Credits: Met office A wind warning has been issued for the areas in yellow

“Winds are likely to gust to 55-65 mph quite widely in the warning area, with possible gusts of 70-80 mph in exposure.”

It said the dangers are:

  • Injuries and danger to life from flying debris are possible.
  • Road, rail, air and ferry services may be affected, with longer journey times and cancellations possible.
  • Some roads and bridges may close. Fallen trees may be an additional hazard.
  • There is a small chance that injuries could occur from large waves and beach material being thrown onto seafronts.
  • There is a chance that power cuts may occur, with the potential to affect other services, such as mobile phone coverage.

As of Friday morning, the wind warning is in effect from Monday at 6pm to Tuesday at 12pm for the following areas:

  • North West England: Blackpool, Cumbria, Lancashire, Merseyside
  • Northern Ireland: County Down
  • SW Scotland, Lothian Borders: Dumfries and Galloway
  • Strathclyde: East Ayrshire, South Ayrshire
  • South West England: Cornwall, Devon, Isles of Scilly, Somerset
  • Wales: Bridgend, Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Conwy, Denbighshire, Flintshire, Gwynedd, dIsle of Anglesey, Neath Port Talbot, Pembrokeshire, Powys, Swansea, Vale of Glamorgan

On Friday morning, Tropical Storm Helene was bearing down on the Azores Islands in the Atlantic.

The government of Portugal had issued a tropical storm warning for the archipelago.

a close up of a map: A map showing Helene's probable wind speeds © Provided by Trinity Mirror Shared Services Limited A map showing Helene’s probable wind speeds

The US National Hurricane Center said: “A turn toward the northeast is expected over the weekend. On the forecast track, Helene will pass near or over the Azores late Saturday or Sunday.

“Maximum sustained winds are near 65 mph (100 km/h) with higher gusts. Little change in strength is forecast during the next 48 hours.

“Gradual weakening is expected after Helene becomes a post-tropical cyclone over the weekend.

Storms Florence (left), Helene (right), Isaac and Joyce are seen in a satellite image taken a million miles from Earth  © Credits: REX/Shutterstock Storms Florence (left), Helene (right), Isaac and Joyce are seen in a satellite image taken a million miles from Earth 

“Tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 140 miles (220 km) from the centre.”

The warnings were issued as Hurricane Florence wreaked havoc on the US East Coast, flooding homes with a 10ft storm surge.

Black Venus – the South Korean spy who met Kim Jong Il

koren spy

Before meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, Southern spy “Black Venus” was told to stay up late, shower, and dress neatly. He also hid a micro recorder in his p***s.

Few spies have ever got as close to the leader of an enemy state — let alone one as reclusive as the isolated North — as Black Venus, real name Park Chae-seo.

In the 1990s he posed as a disgruntled former South Korean military officer turned businessman looking to film commercials for Southern companies in scenic Northern locations.

Along the way to meeting Kim, he claims to have sold antique ceramics for millions for members of the North’s ruling family and seen Northern military officials counting huge bribes paid by Southerners in political plots.

Now his story has been turned into a book and a film that shine new light on the murky connections — some financial, some political — that run across the Demilitarised Zone dividing the peninsula.

With North and South engaged in a rapid diplomatic rapprochement, “The Spy Gone North” has been an instant bestseller and box office hit, the film attracting five million viewers in just its first three weeks on release — around 10 percent of the South’s entire population.

“It was extremely stressful living as a spy,” Park, 64, told AFP in a rare foreign media interview. “I might be exposed by the slightest mistake, like a s****d slip of the tongue.”

But unlike Northern agents sent south, he was not issued with suicide pills to ensure a quick end if captured.

Instead, he explained, “we were trained to kill ourselves with our own fingers” using “some critical points in the body”.

Fake Rolex 

Park started in military intelligence in 1990, tasked with gathering information on the North’s nuclear programme, then in its early stages.

He befriended a Chinese nuclear physicist of Korean ancestry who — in exchange for a million-dollar payment — later revealed that the North had made two low-level nuclear weapons.

When he joined the South’s spy agency in 1995, then known as the Agency for National Security Planning (ANSP), he was assigned the codename, Black Venus.

Based in Beijing, he worked for a South Korean company importing Chinese agricultural products, disguising them as tariff-exempt North Korean goods, and built up a network of North Korean contacts and other informants.

He also bribed his way towards higher North Korean authorities, once providing the acting head of Pyongyang’s spy agency with top-quality counterfeit Rolex watches when he visited Beijing.

His big break came, he says, when he allegedly helped arrange the release of a nephew of Jang Song Thaek — the influential uncle of current leader Kim Jong Un who was executed as a traitor in 2013 — from a Chinese prison by helping pay off $160,000 of debts the nephew owed to Chinese traders.

A grateful Jang family invited Park to Pyongyang and he seized the chance to sign a $4 million deal between his advertising company and a North Korean tourism agency to film TV commercials at locations including Korea’s spiritual home, Mount Paektu, and Mount Kumgang, where the two sides hold reunions of divided families.

At the time North Korea was in desperate need of funds, with its socialist economy falling apart following the collapse of the Soviet Union, its main funder, and millions of its people starving.

Park says he helped members of the Kim family sell antique pale green glazed celadon ceramics unearthed in the North to rich South Koreans, and visited a cache of hundreds more hidden near Mount Myohyang, accompanied by a South Korean expert who valued them at more than one billion dollars.

In 1997, after several trips to the North, he was taken to the Paekhwawon Guest House in Pyongyang, where Kim Jong Il was as usual working by night, for a 30-minute meeting with the leader himself, the recorder hidden in his urethra.

Kim did not bother to shake hands when he entered the room for the 30-minute meeting, Park said, which focused on cashing in the ceramics.

“His voice was a bit husky,” said Park. “Far from being nervous for fear of being exposed, I felt rather relieved because it meant I had won the North’s complete trust.”

North Wind 

Kim also expressed a keen interest in the South’s upcoming presidential poll, according to Park.

Cross-border military crises have tended to occur in election years in the South, helping shift undecided votes toward conservatives, a phenomenon known as “the North Wind” in the South.

North Korean agents blew up Korean Air flight 858 over the Andaman Sea, killing 115 people, less than three weeks before the South’s 1987 presidential election.

And ahead of the 1997 presidential poll, Park says, North Korean officials told him three supporters of conservative candidate Lee Hoi-chang had asked them to mount an armed attack days before polling.

In a Beijing hotel room, Park claims, “with my own eyes, I saw the North Koreans counting wads of dollars in their hotel room that they received from the South Koreans”, allegedly in exchange.

“There were 36 bundles, each of them $100,000.”

He reported his findings to his ANSP bosses and the campaign of liberal candidate Kim Dae-Jung, which made them public. In the end, there was no incident and Kim secured a narrow victory.

The trio of Lee supporters was later convicted of breaking the South’s National Security Law, which bans contact with the North, but was acquitted on appeal to the Supreme Court after Park refused to testify.

 Final exposure 

His cover blown, Park was fired by the spy agency and moved to China, spending much of his time on the golf course.

The ANSP, now known as the National Intelligence Service, declined to comment on Park’s allegations.

After South Korea’s Conservatives returned to power, they brought in a new spy chief and Park was arrested in Seoul in 2010 and convicted of passing classified information to the North, despite insisting he conveyed only low-level intelligence to win Pyongyang’s confidence.

“I was in solitary confinement for six years,” he said, calling his imprisonment politically motivated.

His story provides a glimpse into a “suspected but so far inaccessible truth” in inter-Korean relations, film critic Lee Yong-Cheol wrote in Cine21 magazine.

And if the winds of geopolitics once again shift and leave him on the wrong side, Park has an insurance policy — the recordings he made of his meetings with Kim Jong Il, Jang Song Thaek, and other officials.

He says they were not available when he was suddenly arrested in 2010.

But now he is keeping them safe “somewhere in a foreign country”.