Surveillance scandal ensnares Lee clique

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Surveillance scandal ensnares Lee clique

The Lee Myung-bak Administration was confronted yesterday with opposition allegations that it had conducted illegal surveillance against at least one individual who posted an anti-government online video.

The opposition Democratic Party said it had launched a special committee led by Rep. Shin Kuhn to investigate the incident and push for a parliamentary hearing on the matter. It will also request the Board of Audit and Inspection to probe the case.

The DP alleges that a high-ranking government official ordered the illegal surveillance of an individual who posted an online video criticizing President Lee, which was widely viewed this spring on local Web sites.

The opposition is hoping the incident could further weaken support for the Lee Administration, following its setback in the June local elections and recent parliamentary defeat on the Sejong City revision plan.

The opposition is referring to the scandal as “Yeongpogate,” a reference to the fact that the Lee official involved was part of a group of senior government officials and politicians who came from the same area as President Lee.

The name refers to the cities of Yeongil and Pohang in North Gyeongsang. President Lee’s hometown is Pohang.

“Yeongpogate shows that the government sector lacks discipline and abuses public power,” Woo Sang-ho, a DP spokesperson at a party meeting yesterday. “We will get to the bottom of the illegalities and power abuses committed by the President’s acquaintances from the same hometown.”

The issue was raised first on June 21 by DP lawmakers, including Shin Kuhn, during a meeting of a National Assembly committee that the illegal surveillance occurred in 2008 at the order of Lee In-kyou, an official in the Prime Minister’s Office who is in charge of public ethics.

The Prime Minister’s Office subsequently suspended Lee from duty on June 24.

PD Diary, an MBC TV investigative program, highlighted the episode on June 29 in a segment entitled “Why did the Korean government investigate me privately?”

The program interviewed a person who claimed he was the target of an investigation ordered by Lee and raised speculation about the role of the Yeong-po group in the incident.

The PD Diary producers claimed that Lee might have ordered the illegal surveillance on the orders of Lee Yeong-ho, a Blue House secretary for employment and labor-management relations, who is also a Yeong-po member.

Chung Se-kyun, the DP chairman, compared the Yeong-po to the notorious Hanahoe, a shadowy group of Korea Military Academy graduates who played a behind-the-scenes role during the Chun Doo Hwan military dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s .

Political observers believe that Yeongpogate, along with the four rivers restoration project, will emerge as a major issue ahead of the July 28 legislative by-elections, which is seen as another litmus test of public support for the Lee Administration.

The early members of Yeong-po, created in 1980, claimed the group started as a social gathering of high-ranking officials from the same home region. Park Myung-jae, Minister of Government Administration and Home Affairs, an early member, said a group of 20 or 30 people gathered together to talk about how to develop the area and how to fund scholarships for students from the area.

Critics say the group had more political aims, saying that local politicians, including Lee Sang-deuk, the president’s elder brother and a GNP lawmaker, was an adviser to the group from the beginning and helped the president’s election campaign in 2007.


By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]

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