No mercy for wiretappersThe extensive wiretapping instigated by the Prime Minister’s Office and its attempted cover- up is reminiscent of the Watergate scandal in the U.S. in the 1970s, which led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. The main difference here is that the case was not exposed by investigative reporters, but by a government aide.
Watergate came to light after the Democratic Party’s headquarters in Washington were burgled and the case unearthed by two Washington Post reporters. But the latest Korean scandal looks more like it was exposed in order to sabotage the chances of the ruling party and government ahead of the legislative elections in April.
In separate statements, the Blue House and Prime Minister’s Office insisted that 80 percent of the wiretapped recordings were made during the former Roh Moo-hyun administration and demanded that they should not be exploited to serve political interests. Regardless, it is extremely concerning that presidential aides were found to have orchestrated an extensive secret spying ring to keep tabs on lawmakers, businessmen, journalists and labor activists.
The attempted cover-up by officials from the Blue House and Prime Minister’s Office, who hid and destroyed evidence after Kim Jong-ik, the former head of a subsidiary of KB Financial Group, exposed that he had been wiretapped, is even more unforgivable. Furthermore, more than 100 million won ($88,700) was reportedly offered to a former member of the controversial spying unit to buy the official’s silence during the trial.
A senior presidential spokesman said that of the 2,619 surveillance documents, more than 2,200 had been drawn up while Han Myeong-sook, now head of the main opposition Democratic United Party, served as prime minister under Roh. The legality of the surveillance activities must be discerned, and if past governments committed similar illegal acts, they should also come under scrutiny. But the Blue House cannot escape criticism for trying to lay the blame on past administrations. It should have shouldered responsibility for the role it played in undermining people’s civil liberties.
In response to the opposition’s demand that Minister of Justice Kwon Jae-jin resign, the Blue House said it is waiting until after it sees the prosecution’s report. Prosecutors have vowed to investigate his past actions thoroughly, but few trust this will be conducted sincerely. As Kwon served as the senior presidential secretary for civil affairs when much of the wiretapping was taking place, he should come forth and explain himself.
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