Suspected source for internal report summoned

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Suspected source for internal report summoned

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office on Monday summoned for questioning a former head of a local tax office, who is believed to be the primary source for the Blue House internal report at the center of a scandal about back-room string-pulling by Chung Yoon-hoi, President Park Geun-hye’s former top aide and alleged power broker.

Park Gwan-cheon, 48, a senior police officer at a police station in Seoul who authored the internal document while temporarily working at the Office of the Presidential Secretary for Civil Service Discipline, was questioned at the same prosecutors’ office on Monday following two other rounds of questioning on Sunday and last Thursday. He was responsible for investigating corruption and irregularities throughout the government.

The police officer told prosecutors in earlier questioning that he heard rumors about Chung having regular meetings to discuss state affairs with 10 Blue House officials including three incumbent presidential secretaries - Lee Jae-man, Jeong Ho-seong and Ahn Bong-geun - from a “trustworthy” informant, without naming anyone.

Based on its own analysis of phone records and email transactions by Park from last December through early January, the prosecution has concluded that the informant is Park Dong-yeol, 61, who formerly headed the Daejeon branch of the National Tax Service and now runs a private tax service.

The tax official attended Dongguk University in Seoul, which is known for its police administration department. Both Parks are assumed to have been introduced by a mutual acquaintance in the police. In addition, they are both from Gyeongsang, which has produced President Park and many more other high-ranking government officials and politicians.

The tax expert, according to people around him, used to brag about his personal connection with figures in lofty government posts.

The prosecution is trying to verify whether the former tax official was a simple purveyor of rumors from his network or was a source of classified intelligence.

“What’s most important at this stage is to see if there actually were gatherings and what kind of communications were made,” said one of the prosecutors investigating the case. “We are not excluding the possibility that [those involved] used phones registered under fake names.”

Park, the police officer, admitted authoring the document at the center of the scandal and said what he wrote in the internal Blue House report dated Jan. 6 was “trustworthy.” But he denied the charge that he leaked it. Another official at the Blue House he worked with leaked the report, he said.

The scandal was touched off by local daily Segye Ilbo on Nov. 28 in a report on the internal document, which was titled “Current activity of the VIP’s confidante and rumors about the replacement of the Blue House chief of staff.”

“VIP” referred to the president and confidante to Chung.

The report, which the Blue House insists is a mere collection of loose talk, said Chung and a group of 10 close aides to the president - including three presidential secretaries - had regular meetings at restaurants in southern Seoul to discuss state affairs and how their influence should be used. They also allegedly started a campaign against the president’s chief of staff, Kim Ki-choon, by circulating rumors about him, according to the report.

Those rumors then spread in political circles, which adds to the document’s credibility.

Chung is a former son-in-law of Choi Tae-min, a late pastor who mentored President Park when she was playing the role of de facto first lady in the 1970s after her mother was assassinated. Chung worked as Park’s chief of staff from 1998 till 2004. But little is known about his activities since. He currently has no official position in the government.

The leaking of the confidential document led many to believe that a power struggle was taking place between Chung and Park’s younger brother, Park Ji-man, given that Chung has a history of keeping tabs on the brother when her was serving as a chief of staff for Park.

Chung is set to appear at the Seoul Central Prosecutors’ Office at 10 a.m. Wednesday for questioning. Prosecutors can compare his statements with those of Cho Eung-cheon, a former secretary for civil service discipline under the Civil Affairs Office at the Blue House who was interrogated by prosecutors last Friday. Cho allegedly commanded Officer Park to write the internal document.

Chung has stuck to the claim that he has had no contact with people working with the president for the past 10 years. Park added force to the argument by officially announcing Sunday in front of leaders of the ruling Saenuri Party and some of its lawmakers that “Chung left my side a long time ago and my contact with him has been severed.”

The leaked report has prompted a slew of unconfirmed disclosures in less than 10 days.

One was a revelation Friday by former Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Yoo Jin-ryong that the president had ordered him to demote two sports officials, calling them “very bad people,” after they investigated special treatment that was alleged to have been given to Chung’s daughter, an equestrian.

The Dong-A Ilbo, a major conservative daily, also published a story Monday saying that President Park’s Chief of Staff Kim actually ordered early this year the Civil Affairs Office of the Blue House to investigate the instigator of the rumor that he was to be replaced and write up the leaked report.

Kim filed a defamation suit against the newspaper, said Blue House spokesman Min Kyung-wook on Monday.

The suit follows defamation suits by eight presidential officials against the Segye Ilbo on Nov. 28, the day it ran its first story on the Blue House report.

BY SEO JI-EUN [spring@joongang.co.kr]

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