Saenuri cleared in cyberattack probe

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Saenuri cleared in cyberattack probe

After a three-month probe, an independent counsel team yesterday concluded that no senior politicians from the conservative ruling party were tied to the cyberattack on the National Election Commission during last year’s Seoul mayoral by-election.

Five people, including Kim Hyo-jae, former presidential senior secretary for political affairs, were additionally indicted by the team, lead by Special Prosecutor Park Tae-seok, over their involvement.

But the investigation failed to find evidence to back suspicions that higher officials in the Grand National Party - the predecessor of the Saenuri Party - were involved in the crime.

A massive cyberattack on the National Election Commission paralyzed its Web site on the day of the Seoul mayoral by-election on Oct. 26, 2011, and the prosecution concluded in January that two former aides to then-National Assembly Speaker Park Hee-tae and Representative Choi Ku-sik were responsible for the crimes.

Speculation continued that someone more powerful than the two politicians’ aides was behind the attack. The suspects had confessed that they had intended to paralyze the election watchdog’s Internet site so that young, liberal voters would have difficulty finding the locations of their polling stations.

High voter turnout was expected to benefit the liberal independent candidate, Park Won-soon, who won the election to become Seoul mayor against the GNP’s Na Kyung-won.

Despite another three-month probe, the independent counsel team ended its investigation without much change, while prosecuting several others linked to the case.

“We concluded that the aides to the lawmakers had tried to show off their influence,” Park, the independent counsel, said yesterday at the press briefing. “We have thoroughly investigated their ties to senior politicians, but no evidence of bank accounts or communication records were discovered.”

“They also testified that they wanted to have some political benefits by talking to Na later about what they had done,” Park said.

Kim, the former presidential aide, was accused of leaking confidential information obtained in the line of duty. Two former aides to Kim were also indicted on similar charges.

The independent counsel said Kim tipped off Choi in December about the progress of the prosecution’s investigation after his aide was arrested.

A National Election Commission staffer was also indicted for having failed to cope with the cyberattack properly, while a worker for LG U+ was indicted on charges of hindering the election commission’s analysis into the cyberattack.

Despite three months of investigation with manpower at 100-strong, the independent counsel failed to find evidence to prove lingering doubts that someone higher up the political ladder had been involved in the crime. Na was also cleared of her suspected ties.

The independent counsel team also found no evidence to back suspicions that the Blue House aides and then-Police Chief Cho Hyun-oh had attempted to scale down the investigation.

It also said no evidence was found that the Blue House officials had tried to influence the prosecution’s initial probe.

Over the three months, the team questioned 348 people and conducted 15 raids. It also received 22 warrants to track down bank records and 15 warrants to look into telecommunication records.

The opposition Democratic United Party yesterday fiercely condemned the independent counsel for having failed to perform its role.

“This is precisely why we argued that a National Assembly investigation and a hearing must take place before an independent counsel probe,” said Park Yong-jin, spokesman of the DUP.

“We don’t see this as the end of the probe. The National Assembly will do more to lay bare the truth behind this case.”

Park also said the failure of the independent counsel supports its demand to have National Assembly investigations into the Lee administration’s abuse of power in the illegal surveillance scandal and the presidential retirement home scandal.

“If it is willing to go after the corruption and irregularities of Lee, the Saenuri Party must accept our demands for the National Assembly investigation, rather than insisting on the independent counsel probes,” Park said.

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

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