Get to the bottom of it

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Get to the bottom of it

The prosecution reopened a 2010 case as new evidence and testimony suggests organized involvement of the presidential office, including the former chief of staff, in the scandalous illegal surveillance of a businessman critical of President Lee Myung-bak. Several officials at the Prime Minister’s Office received jail sentences for illegally keeping tabs on Kim Jong-ik, head of NS Hanmaum who posted a video on his blog critical of the president in 2010. But testimony suggests the Blue House ordered government officials to eradicate all evidence and paid them off to keep silent and serve their prison sentences.

All the names that have newly come up are key aides of the president. Choi Jong-seok, former labor affairs official at the presidential office and his immediate boss Lee Young-ho, the president’s former secretary on labor affairs, were first to be named as orchestrators of the order to destroy all evidence and prevent further political fallout from the scandal. Yim Tae-hee, chief of staff to President Lee, and Jang Seok-myeong, senior official at the presidential secretariat on civil affairs are now alleged to have handed over hush money to three members who were indicted for illegal surveillance activities on a civilian. Jang Jin-su, the lowest-level civil servant, claimed that he received 50 million won ($44,391) for shouldering the blame and keeping silent.

With such high-profile figures involved, many are raising suspicion that the case may be hiding a bigger skeleton in the closet. The officials have not just erased files, but destroyed the computer hard disc, raising questions as to why the Blue House went so far when the businessman had already revealed that he was under watch. Apart from the 50 million won Jang directly received from the Blue House, at least 110 million won has been spent to help the indicted officials prepare for their trials.

The prosecution has organized a team of investigators at the Seoul District Prosecutors’ Office to reopen the case instead of the usual central investigation team at the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office that handle high-profile political cases. The prosecution is also suspected to have collaborated to water down the case.

Former presidential secretary Lee Young-ho in a press conference denied systematic involvement of the presidential office. He said he gave the money to Jang out of compassion. The opposition is demanding special parliamentary investigation as both the presidential office and prosecution are suspected of involvement. If the prosecution cannot get to the bottom of the case, it is best to leave it up to outside investigators.

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