Groups push for probe into illegal surveillance

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Groups push for probe into illegal surveillance

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The prosecution has faced mounting public pressure to reinvestigate the Lee Myung-bak administration’s illegal surveillance activity against a civilian and the Blue House’s alleged involvement in concealing the case after a whistle-blower made a bombshell revelation that tied the presidential office to the scandal.

Jang Jin-su, a former ethics official of the Prime Minister’s Office, told the JoongAng Ilbo earlier this month that the Blue House had ordered him to destroy evidence linked to the illegal surveillance scandal.

According to Jang, Choi Jong-seok, then a staffer at the Office of the Senior Secretary to the President for Employment and Social Welfare, ordered him on July 7, 2010 to destroy computer hard disks of the officials who were involved in the surveillance operation. The order was made two days before the prosecution’s raid, Jang said.

“Choi told me that it’s okay to destroy them with a hammer or throw them into the Han River,” Jang told the JoongAng Ilbo. “He said it’s already been arranged by the Office of the Senior Secretary to the President for Civil Affairs that the prosecution won’t make it a problem.”

Jang, however, claimed that he did not know what’s inside the computers. Following the bombshell revelation, a transcript of a conversation between Jang and Choi was also made public in a podcast on OhmyNews. The conversation, allegedly recorded in October 2010, showed that Choi was pressuring Jang to conceal the Blue House’s involvement in destroying the evidence.

“The Office of the Senior Secretary to the President for Civil Affairs is not free [from the scandal],” Choi was quoted as saying.

At the time, Minister of Justice Kwon Jae-jin was the senior secretary for civil affairs. The illegal surveillance scandal dated back to 2008. The Prime Minister’s Office allegedly conducted raids and bank account investigations against Kim Jong-ik, a 58-year-old businessman, after he posted a video clip critical of President Lee on his blog.

After an investigation, the prosecution indicted seven officials from the Prime Minister’s Office but failed to find evidence to link the Blue House to the scandal. Jang, the whistle-blower, was one of the indicted suspects. He was later convicted of evidence destruction by the Seoul High Court.

Civic groups yesterday demanded the Blue House admit its involvement and order a reinvestigation. The People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy and the Lawyers for a Democratic Society held a press conference near the Blue House and urged Lee to apologize for the abuse of power. They also condemned the prosecutors for hesitating to look into Jang’s revelation. The Democratic United Party also joined the condemnation yesterday, vowing to lay bare the truth, calling the case “the Watergate scandal of Korea.”

Stressing that the prosecution is as guilty as the Blue House, Han Myeong-sook, chairwoman of the largest opposition party, said yesterday that the DUP will initiate an independent probe and a National Assembly investigation after the new legislature is elected. “The Blue House and the prosecution are accomplices of the same crime, and they both are subjects of investigation,” Han said.

The Blue House has remained tight-lipped about the new accusation. “I have nothing more to say,” Park Jeong-ha, the presidential spokesman, said on Tuesday. “There is nothing we can do right now, and it’s a matter to be decided by the prosecution.”

A senior prosecution official told the JoongAng Ilbo yesterday that the prosecution is willing to open an investigation if the Democratic United Party files a formal petition to look into the newly surfaced accusations. “Because it is a thorny issue, it is hard for us to push forward with an investigation first,” he said.

By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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