Outrage over spying on judges

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Outrage over spying on judges

Opposition parties Friday condemned the Blue House following a bombshell revelation by a former head of a local daily that the presidential office spied on Supreme Court Chief Justice Yang Sung-tae and other top judges, calling the alleged surveillance a clear breach of the Constitution.

During a Thursday parliamentary hearing into the Choi Soon-sil abuse of power scandal that led to the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye, Cho Han-gyu, former head of the Segye Ilbo, revealed that the Blue House carried out illegal surveillance on Korea’s top judges. Cho submitted documentary evidence of spying on Yang and another senior judge. He did not specify how the spying was done.

“Testimony given by Cho on illegal spying on the chief Supreme Court justice is a serious criminal act that was only done by military governments in the past,” said Minjoo Party Chairwoman Choo Mi-ae during a meeting Friday. “It is a blatant violation of the Constitution that should have brought the impeachment of the Park government before.”

In his testimony Thursday, Cho said that in a surveillance report on Yang, the presidential office noted the justice was getting some pushback from court employees because he led a campaign to go hiking every Friday. Cho claimed to have a copy of another surveillance report on Choi Sung-jun, who was head of the Chuncheon District Court when the report was drawn up in January 2014.

Taken aback by the revelation, the Supreme Court took quick action to demand a thorough investigation in an official statement issued just hours after Cho’s testimony Thursday.

“If regular surveillance was done on court judges, it stems from an ill intention to obstruct the judiciary’s lawful authority by the means of spying and monitoring,” said the court. If the allegation is true, the country’s highest court said, it “represents a serious challenge to the rule of law and against constitutional principles.”

Moon Jae-in, frontrunner in polls for the next presidential election, issued a statement Friday echoing the court’s concern. He described spying on senior judges as a “blatant act that violates the separation of powers.” Moon, a former human rights lawyer, said such alleged spying was the equivalent of a coup against the Constitution.

The Blue House denied Cho’s revelation Friday, saying it never carried out surveillance on anyone. An independent council into the Choi-gate scandal indicated Friday it may look into the alleged spying on judges.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]
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