Political hit squad set up in 2008 in PM office

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Political hit squad set up in 2008 in PM office

The public ethics division of the Prime Minister’s Office was created as a political hit squad for President Lee Myung-bak that spied on and took action against rivals and critics, according to a document exclusively acquired by the JoongAng Ilbo on Tuesday.

The document, dated Aug. 28, 2008 and entitled “The command system in performing duties at the public ethics division,” stated that the purpose of the division was root out loyalists from the previous administration of Roh Moo-hyun to keep them from interfering with the Lee administration.

The document said the division, although technically under the Prime Minister’s Office, would be led by an elite guard loyal to the “VIP,” meaning the president. Any reports on “special affairs,” the document said, were to be made directly to the president or his chief of staff, not to the Prime Minister.

When it was formed, the division was described as an internal affairs unit that would investigate wrongdoings by civil servants. It was supposed to have no powers to investigate non-civil servants.

The document brings the widening illegal spying and abuse of power scandal nearer to the Blue House.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office is investigating one case of illegal spying and it is possible the document would push the prosecution to investigate a former chief of staff for President Lee.

The case involves allegations of illegal surveillance of a businessman critical of Lee and the destruction of evidence of the surveillance by officials of the public ethics division or the Blue House.

Jang Jin-su, a former official of the division who in March blew a whistle on the destruction of the evidence, said the Blue House, ordered “special management” of the evidence after it was reported to the president.

The prosecution has learned that the Aug. 28, 2008 document was written by Jin Gyeong-rak, a former planning director of the public ethics division. The prosecution found various documents on a USB flash drive seized from Kim Gyeong-dong, a former official of the division.

The Blue House denied any involvement with the document in question or reports about the illegal spying.

“The document was drafted arbitrarily by an individual, Jin Gyeong-rak,” said an official of the presidential office, “and information collected illegally has never been reported to President Lee.”

The document said holdovers from the Roh Moo-hyun administration should be forced from their jobs, especially those “who don’t comply with the policy stances of MB (the initials of the president) or resist them.”

It made specific mention of 39 executives of public companies.

The Lee administration came under fire in its early years after media reports said it pressured some heads of public companies appointed during the Roh administration to quit. The document indicates this work was led by the public ethics division.

The guard loyal to the president is suspected to refer to the Yeongpo Club, an organization of public servants from the Yeongil and Pohang areas of North Gyeongsang. (Yeongpo is an abbreviation combining the names Yeongil and Pohang.) The president is from Pohang.

According to the document, the guard’s powers were broad. It could appoint or dismiss director- and manager-level officials at the division.

“This is like the Yusin or fifth republic era,” said a political figure who declined to be identified, referring to the Park Chung Hee and Chun Doo Hwan military regimes of the 1970s and 1980s.

“An opaque and crooked loyalty (to the president) has brought the case as far as this.”

By Park Jin-suk, Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]

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