‘Yeongpo-gate’ revived with secret phone charges

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‘Yeongpo-gate’ revived with secret phone charges

The Democratic Party said yesterday that it was walking away from a potential graft scandal allegedly involving Kim Yoon-ok, the first lady, to reopen another case to embarrass the administration and ruling party: an abuse of power scandal that made headlines in June and July.

Democratic Party lawmaker Lee Seok-hyun said Monday at a National Assembly question session that an official at the Blue House gave five cell phones registered under the names of top officials of state-run companies to the public ethics division of the Prime Minister’s Office. The cell phones were used for “secret talks” between the public ethics division and the Blue House, Lee said.

The Democratic Party asked prosecutors Wednesday to investigate the five cell phone accounts. The opposition has dubbed the phones “Daepo phones,” using the Korean slang for a fake identity.

In June and July, the public ethics office was accused of spying on private citizens perceived to be enemies of the administration. If true, the spying would be an abuse of power because the public ethics team is authorized to investigate public servants, but not ordinary citizens.

According to the opposition, the spying was ordered by President Lee Myung-bak’s loyalists in the Blue House. The scandal was dubbed “Yeongpo-gate,” because some of the people allegedly involved belonged to the Yeongpo Club, an organization of public servants from the Yeongil and Pohang areas of North Gyeongsang that was established in 1980.

Yeongpo is an acronym that combines the names of Yeongil and Pohang, the latter of which is President Lee’s hometown.

Prosecutors raided the public ethics division on July 6 and 9 but found that all of the data saved on the office’s computers were damaged. The office’s former manager - Jin Kyeong-rak - another official and a policeman were all charged with deleting data from computers.

Jin was sentenced Tuesday to two years in jail. The other official got a jail term of 18 months, and the policeman got a one-year sentence.

But prosecutors said there was insufficient evidence to find a link to the Blue House and closed that part of the case on Sept. 9.

According to Representative Lee, a public ethics official used one of the government’s five secret cell phones to request that an IT company delete data on 10 hard disks on July 4, right before the prosecutors’ raids.

Lee also said that prosecutors knew the official was given a phone registered to someone else by the Blue House, but did not disclose the fact to the public.

Minister of Justice Lee Kwi-nam confirmed Lee’s statements in the National Assembly Monday, saying, “What he [Lee] said is true. As I know, the case is being discussed in the court.”

On Tuesday, Sin Kyeong-sik, a prosecutor in the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, said, “There is only one secret phone, not five. The phone was registered under the name of a family member of the owner of a cell phone store.” Sin said it wasn’t registered to an official from a state-run company, as the Democratic Party has said.

“We questioned Lee Yeong-ho, former senior secretary to the president for employment and social welfare, but found no evidence that the Blue House gave the phones to the office,” Sin said.

The Seoul Central District Court, which was in charge of the case, said Wednesday that it had not been informed about cell phones in the case. The court said, “We have never seen any documents or reports [from prosecutors] about the secret phones.”

Park Jie-won, the DP’s floor leader, said Wednesday, “We are sure the number of suspicious cell phones is five. The prosecutors must have concealed the truth.”

Grand National Party Representative Hong Joon-pyo said yesterday that prosecutors should resume their investigation of the scandal.

“It is not right for prosecutors to keep the case closed as the evidence, the cell phones, was found,” Hong said.

When asked for a comment Tuesday, Blue House spokesperson Kim Hee-jung said, “It is not appropriate for the Blue House to make any remarks about the case at this moment.”

By Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr]
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