Ethics officials jailed for spying, abuse of power

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Ethics officials jailed for spying, abuse of power

The Seoul Central District Court yesterday handed down an 18-month jail sentence to Lee In-kyu, a former senior official at the public ethics office of the Prime Minister’s Office, for spying on a businessman critical of the Lee Myung-bak administration.

The court also handed down jail sentences of six months to 14 months to Lee’s three subordinates.

The four were indicted in August for conducting a two-month-long illegal surveillance of businessman Kim Jong-ik, former head of NS Hanmaum, an outsourcing company for Kookmin Bank, after he uploaded a video clip critical of President Lee on his Web site in 2008.

“Former ethics officer Lee and others knew Kim Jong-ik wasn’t a public servant but a civilian from the start but they conducted illegal surveillance on him and even pressured Kookmin Bank to force Kim to resign as chief executive and sell his shares in his company,” the verdict reads.

“The court also recognizes charges that ethics officers illegally searched Kim’s office as a way of pressuring [the company] to surrender documents related to Kim.”

In June, the Lee Myung-bak administration was embroiled in an abuse of power scandal when Kim claimed on a TV program that he was spied on, which he said ruined both his reputation and career.

Public ethics officers in the Prime Minister’s Office are responsible for breaches of public ethics by government officials and are allowed to probe only public servants.

The court says the verdicts reflect the seriousness of the crimes, saying it was a “grave incident” when public servants abused their power and infringed the basic rights and freedoms of civilians.

The court, however, acquitted Lee In-kyu on the charge that he illegally spied on Lee Ji, wife of Grand National Party Representative Nam Kyung-pil, in 2008.

Nam’s wife, a businesswoman, was investigated in two criminal embezzlement cases in 2007 and 2009 but was cleared in both cases.

Prosecutor Shin Kyeong-sik, who led the illegal surveillance investigation, said he will appeal the case to a higher court, Newsis reported, because he believes the acquittal was wrong and the prison sentences are too light.

By Kim Mi-ju []
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