[EDITORIAL] Self-Audit Is Needed Now

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[EDITORIAL] Self-Audit Is Needed Now

Lim Dong-won, head of the National Intelligence Service, testified on Tuesday to the National Assembly Intelligence Committee that the spy agency's funds of 119.7 billion won ($94 million), funneled for use in the 1996 general elections, came from the agency's budget surplus and interest. If it is true, it is no laughing matter. At present, a trial is under way on the embezzlement of the agency's budget. If Mr. Lim is correct, there is no use proceeding with the trial.

Yet, a substantial part of Mr. Lim's testimony does not correspond with the prosecution's charge. To begin with, the prosecution says that the 100-odd billion came from the spy agency's 1995 principal budget. Therefore, the president and the ruling party insisted that spy-catching money was diverted to the then-ruling camp. However, according to Mr. Lim, the funds were siphoned off on 19 occasions between 1995 and 1996, and they were not from budget accounts but leftovers. In other words, he says that the money certainly originated from the agency's budget, but it was not earmarked to catch spies.

The Budget and Accounts Act stipulates that unused portions and their interest are to be returned to state coffers. Then was the agency never subject to an audit, as it set aside budgets, stashed leftovers and then brought them back to the principal budget? With the installation of the Intelligence Committee in the legislature in 1994, the agency is required to report on the rough picture of its budget. Then has the agency given falsified numbers all along? This means that the agency abused the regulation that exempts it from detailed audits, used the nation's budget as it pleased and spent money as it saw fit. That was how the agency was able to interfere in politics.

All that is required is for the spy agency to launch a self-audit, investigate and reveal every detail from how much surplus there was to how it was illegally stashed and diverted. The court only needs to rule on whether the budget was embezzled. Then why is the National Intelligence Service doing nothing, just watching the political wrangling escalate? If the agency is reluctant to do anything, the Board of Audit and Inspection should come forward. If the issue is allowed to keep fanning a political row, this means that the government has washed its hands of what it should do to play political games instead.
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