Prosecutors look at illegal probe by ethics officials

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Prosecutors look at illegal probe by ethics officials

The Prime Minister’s Office formally asked prosecutors yesterday to investigate four of its ethics officials over allegations they conducted an illegal probe of a civilian.

Lee In-kyu, a senior member of the public ethics team in the Prime Minister’s Office, and three others were accused of having conducted an unlawful investigation of a local businessman, Kim Jong-ik. “We probed the four officials from Friday until Sunday over the allegations and decided to refer the case to the prosecution,” said Cho Won-dong, vice minister for general affairs at the Prime Minister’s Office. “We believed they are suspected of having violated the code of conduct governing public servants.” The ethics office is allowed to investigate civil servants, but not ordinary citizens.

In response to the request, a spokesman for the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office said yesterday, “Prosecutor General Kim Joon-kyu ordered a special investigative team to look into the case thoroughly and sternly.”

Kim has said he was investigated by the Prime Minister’s Office after posting a video clip critical of President Lee Myung-bak from an Internet site on his blog in June 2008. The ethics team was also suspected of pressuring a main contractor of Kim’s company to resign. Kim resigned as CEO of his company thereafter. The Prime Minister’s Office said the ethics team had received a report in September 2008 that a public servant had criticized the president. The team launched an investigation without properly identifying whether the target was actually a civil servant or not, the office said. “We need to lay bare the truth about suspicions that the ethics team had abused its authority,” Cho said.

Lee also said yesterday that he will not allow an influence peddling scandal in his administration. “Until my term ends, I will not tolerate any corruption by my relatives or any influence peddling by my aides,” Lee was quoted as saying by his spokesman Park Sun-kyoo. “Some low-ranking people are abusing their power from time to time. Although they say they are doing so for the sake of the government, such an abuse of power is not acceptable.”

Park said Lee’s remarks were prompted by the scandal over the illegal investigation of a civilian. Despite the Prime Minister’s Office and the Blue House’s efforts to contain the scandal, the opposition has voiced suspicion that a private group of top officials connected to the president by hometown bond was behind the investigation.

The Democratic Party said the Yeongpo Club, an organization of public servants from Yeongil and Pohang areas of North Gyeongsang established in 1980, was behind the investigation. Yeongpo is an acronym that combines the names of Yeongil and Pohang. Lee is from Pohang. The Democratic Party claimed that Lee In-kyu is a Yeongpo Club member and that he had reported the investigation results directly to the presidential secretary for labor, Lee Young-ho, another member of the club. In a radio interview, DP’s chief policy maker Jun Byung-hun demanded the Yeongpo Club’s alleged involvement must be investigated thoroughly.  

By Ser Myo-ja []
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