"It was luring and kidnapping, and I know because I took the lead", says Heo Kang-il, the former manager.
"I think about our colleagues being deceived and dragged to South Korea and facing extreme hardship there", Han Yun Hui, another waitress told reporters, adding, "It tears our hearts".
It would also further taint the reputation of the spy agency, which has always been accused of meddling in domestic politics and fabricating espionage cases in the name of fighting the communist North. "I miss my parents". Three women appeared with him, their faces blurred, and confirmed his story.
"The 12 waitresses did not know where they were going", Heo told JTBC's investigative show, "Spotlight".
South Korea's Unification Ministry is checking "the new allegations", its spokesman, Baik Tae Hyun, said on Friday.
Seoul had previously said it sufficiently confirmed the women's free will in escaping from the North and resettling in the South. North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Un, who took power after his father's death in 2011, had Jang, his own uncle and close member of his father's inner circle, put to death for alleged treachery in 2013.
When the defectors, many of whom were elites from good families, arrived in South Korea in April 2016, their defection made worldwide headlines because it was the largest group of defectors to flee North Korea in years.
Kim's government has long demanded the women's repatriation.
The women were among tens of thousands of North Koreans working overseas who funnel badly needed foreign currency to their government.
A famous North Korean defection may have actually been a kidnapping engineered by the South-news that comes at a slightly awkward moment for the two Koreas, the New York Times reports. North Korea quickly claimed they were kidnapped, however, this was widely dismissed on the outside as propaganda.
Park's government announced the defections immediately after. But it kept their whereabouts secret and blocked human rights lawyers from meeting with them.
The North Koreans were working at a Pyongyang-run restaurant across the way at the time, Kuk said. Like other North Korean workers overseas, the women were trained to obey their manager, who held their passports.
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Oh Min-ae, an attorney with progressive group Minbyun in the South, said Heo has been making the claims because "he has found adjusting to life in the South hard and frustrating", according to local network KBS. Heo told JTBC that he had become increasingly disillusioned with his home country, especially in the wake of Jang Song Thaek's execution.
Kuk said he recently met with the North Koreans for a late night of drinking.
But his spying was exposed in 2016, and when he asked his contact at the National Intelligence Service to help him defect, the official ordered him to bring the women with him.
Heo said he made a decision to come clean after promises of an NIS job and a medal fell through.
"He threatened that if I did not bring the women with me, he would report me to the North Korean Embassy".
Japan's Defense Ministry says it spotted a South Korean tanker alongside a North Korean tanker in the East China Sea earlier this month.
When they balked at entering, they said Heo threatened to tell North Korean authorities that they often watched South Korean movies in China, a serious crime for North Korean workers overseas.
"If we didn't sign our names, he threatened he would turn us over to the security police in North Korea for watching South Korean television dramas and I had no choice", one of the women told JTBC. "I am now remorseful for what I did".
North Korean women performing at a state-sanctioned restaurant in Jakarta, Indonesia.
It is unclear why Heo is speaking in public about the incident.
"New claims have been made on how the North Korean workers escaped and arrived in South Korea and whether they were acting on their free will", Baik said.