Alleged leaker Lee stays clear of the press

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Alleged leaker Lee stays clear of the press

Lee Seok-su, who headed a probe into a scandal-plagued presidential aide, disappeared off the radar as of Sunday after catching heat over his alleged leak of details of the investigation to media last week.

Lee was reported on Wednesday to have described details of his on-going probe into Woo Byung-woo, a senior civil affairs secretary to the president, to a journalist. That prompted a strong backlash from the Blue House.

Lee could not be found at his home in Nonhyeon-dong, southern Seoul, over the weekend. Nor could he be reached by phone.

While his family said Lee was not home, he told the JoongAng Ilbo via text messages that he has no intention of resigning as a so-called special inspector general.

A reporter asked via text whether he intends to step down to take responsibility for the situation, “Not yet,” Lee responded. “I will go to work as normal tomorrow.”

On Friday, Kim Sung-woo, the senior presidential secretary for public affairs, strongly reprimanded Lee for the alleged leak of details of his investigation, which he called, if true, “a grave violation of the law” and “intolerable” behavior.

Kim said that under the law governing independent inspections, a special inspector who leaks information about an ongoing probe is punishable with up to five years in prison or a five-year suspension from his job.

Lee, a former prosecutor, was named by President Park Geun-hye as an independent special inspector to head a newly established system to root out irregularities among high-ranking officials in March last year.

He concluded the probe into Woo, which launched in July, on Thursday, asking prosecution to pick up the case and continue investigating Woo, who faces allegations of embezzlement and abuse of authority.

The Blue House continues to say it has no intention of letting Woo Byung-woo go, despite calls from the opposition for the presidential aide to step down.

A Blue House official told the JoongAng Ilbo Sunday, “The civil affairs office is operating as normal, and there is no indication of senior secretary Woo stepping down.”

Kim’s statement on Friday was also seen as an indication that President Park is backing Woo. Some wonder if Park will discuss the situation at a Cabinet meeting Monday.

But one Blue House official said, “It is unlikely that President Park will directly address the issue of Woo.”

Woo’s case is expected to be forwarded to the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office as early as Monday.

The Patriotic Catholics for Korea on Thursday filed a suit against Lee for violating the law on special inspections with the Seoul Central Prosecutors’ Office.

Opposition parties on Sunday renewed their demand for Woo to step down and for a fair investigation to be led into Lee’s alleged leak to the press.

“The Blue House must decide to have senior secretary Woo immediately dismissed and investigated as a suspect,” said Ki Dong-min, floor spokesman of the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea. “It needs to give up protecting senior secretary Woo, who does not realize what he has done wrong and doesn’t have the courage to step down on his own.”

He continued, “Prosecutors need to stop being cautious of the Blue House and handle the case constitutionally.”

Rep. Park Jie-won, floor leader and acting head of the minor opposition People’s Party, described on his Facebook account the imminent prosecution investigations of Woo and Lee, “a national shame.”

He continued, “If prosecutors simultaneously investigate a presidentially-appointed inspector general and senior civil affairs secretary, what does that make of the president who named them?”

BY HYUN IL-HOON, SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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