Surveillance case is disturbing

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Surveillance case is disturbing

The scandal involving illegal surveillance on civilians by the Prime Minister’s Office is becoming more puzzling, entangled and disturbing as the opposition probes deeper into the case the prosecution closed in September. Officials on the public ethics office were arrested. But the opposition opened up a Pandora’s box on the scandal involving the Blue House and on the administration’s keeping tabs on groups ranging from popular singers to photographers.

The Seoul Central District Court recently handed down an 18-month jail sentence for Lee In-kyu, a former senior official at the Prime Minister’s Office, for heading up a surveillance operation on a businessman critical of the administration. But the opposition delivered new charges, claiming higher-ranking involvement from the Blue House. The charges are too detailed for the prosecution to brush side by claiming the case is closed.

The prosecution embarked on an unprecedented investigation of illegal political donations and graft involving ruling and opposition lawmakers. Nevertheless, the prosecution should re-examine the case to determine whether there are any truths to the charges so that the Blue House, if innocent, too, can free itself from the allegations.

First, there must be a clarification on allegations that a senior presidential secretary communicated with officials in the Prime Minister’s Office who were running the surveillance operation with the “Daepo phones,” or phones registered under fake identities. The opposition also claims that the public ethics officials deleted the records. Prosecutors said there was no hard proof, only circumstantial evidence.

Second, we need to know whether the scandal is linked to higher-level offices. The confiscated hard disc contained a file named “report to the presidential secretary on civil affairs.” Reports on surveillance activities had been e-mailed to the Blue House twice. Lee also testified in court that he reported to the Blue House.

Third, the prosecution must account for the clumsy handling of the case. It took four days to investigate, giving the suspects time to eliminate evidence. In contrast, the prosecution was quick in its investigation into politicians accused of pocketing money from a security guards association in exchange for their support for a bill that boosted security guards’ pay.

We have to know the truth about the apparent government surveillance. If the prosecution cannot provide answers, then a special prosecution team is needed.

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