Sewol probe looks at 7 hours at the Blue House

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Sewol probe looks at 7 hours at the Blue House

The Blue House criticized a Monday decision by the special investigative committee under the National Assembly investigating the Sewol ferry disaster to examine what President Park Geun-hye was doing for seven hours on the day of the tragedy.

Blue House spokesman Jeong Yeon-guk said the decision was an “unconstitutional idea.” However, he did not say why the Blue House thinks it is unconstitutional.

“The committee should focus on its original duty to discover the truth of the tragedy,” added Jeong.

The decision was made in the 19th conference of the special committee held Monday at its office in Jung District, Seoul. It decided to investigate the propriety of the actions taken by the Blue House on Apr. 16, 2014, the day of the tragedy, which took more than 300 lives.

Kwon Yeong-bin, head of the fact-finding committee, explained the whereabouts of President Park will be investigated if necessary in the hours after she was first told of the accident, along with instructions made by the Blue House and ministries’ responses to those instructions.

Members of the committee nominated by the ruling Saenuri Party opposed the decision and wanted to exclude an investigation of President Park’s instructions that day. Four committee members nominated by the Saenuri Party threatened to quit if such an investigation proceeded.

The special committee was formed Jan. 1, 2015 to examine the causes of the disaster and support families of the victims. The committee consists of 17 members. The Saenuri Party and main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) nominated five members each, the Supreme Court and the Korean Bar Association nominated two each, and the rest are relatives of the victims.

The disagreement by the four Saenuri members didn’t affect the passing of the resolution because nine members supported it.

While Lee Heon, the deputy head of the committee who was nominated by the Saenuri Party, criticized the final decision, Park Jong-woon, who was nominated by the NPAD, said, “We cannot help but investigate the role of the president in the process of looking into other related matters.”

On Tuesday, the Agriculture, Food, Rural Affairs, Oceans, and Fisheries Committee of the National Assembly summoned lawmakers on the committee to get an emergency report on the dispute. Go Young-joo and the three other members who opposed the resolution did not show up.

Lee Suk-jae, who leads the committee members nominated by relatives of the Sewol victims, said the president’s actions will be investigated but her privacy will not be violated.

“We are not going to start an unconditional investigation of President Park,” said Lee Suk-jae. “The investigation will not invade her privacy, which is not relevant to the matter.”

The Saenuri Party urged the resignations of all 17 members of the committee.

“We will request the Special Committee on Budget and Accounts not to reflect the special committee’s budget,” said Cho Won-jin, a lawmaker of Saenuri.

“We will also cease considering extending the life of the special committee to July 2016,” added Cho.

BY PARK YU-MI AND CHO HYE-KYUNG [koo.yurim@joongang.co.kr]

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