Raid on Blue House targeting Park stymied

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Raid on Blue House targeting Park stymied

Special prosecutors failed Friday to raid the Blue House after five hours of resistance by presidential aides.

Independent counsel Park Young-soo and his team obtained a warrant from the Seoul Central District Court Thursday night and began their attempt to raid the Blue House at 10 a.m. Friday. They left in defeat around 3 p.m.

The team said it will send an official request to the acting president to approve a new raid.

President Park Geun-hye was impeached in December by the National Assembly for allowing a secret inner circle influence state affairs and failing to protect citizens’ lives during a deadly ferry accident in 2014 due to nonfeasance. Her presidential power was suspended and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn became acting president.

The Blue House cites Articles 110 and 111 of the Criminal Procedure Act as grounds to refuse the raid.

Article 110 says that search and seizures shall not be conducted at a place in respect of which military information shall be kept confidential, unless approval from the person in charge is obtained. Article 111, which governs public secrets and seizures, says articles belonging to a public official may be seized only with the consent of his or her office or its supervisory office if the person declares they related to an official secret.

In both cases, the seizure can only be refused when compliance would be prejudicial to important interests of the state.

“We need a judgment on whether or not the raid is prejudicial to state interests,” assistant independent counsel Lee Kyu-chul said Friday. “The judgment should be made by a third institution, not the independent counsel or the Blue House.”

Lee said the raid team at the Blue House was given a written rejection signed by presidential chief of staff Han Gwang-ok and Park Heung-ryul, head of the Presidential Security Service.

“It, however, didn’t specifically say what part of the raid would damage national interests,” he said.

“We will inform the acting president, the authority of the chief of staff and the head of presidential security, of the inappropriateness of their rejection,” Lee said. “We will seek the acting president’s cooperation by sending an official letter.”

“The court issued the warrant after reviewing the two articles in the criminal procedure law,” said Lim Ji-bong, law professor of Sogang University. “Therefore, it is an infringement of judicial power to obstruct the exercise of the warrant. It’s not something the acting president even has jurisdiction over.”

Later in the evening, the independent counsel said the request was sent to Hwang’s office at 5 p.m.

A source from Hwang’s office said it will accept the letter, but a review must take place to see if Hwang has jurisdiction over the issue.

Opposition and ruling parties all criticized the Blue House for blocking the raid. They said Hwang must grant permission for the investigators’ search and seizure.

Lee said the independent counsel will make a legal assessment of whether the Blue House’s resistance amounts to obstruction of justice.

The 20-member team led by two assistant independent counsels, Park Choong-kun and Yang Jae-sik, made an attempt to enter the compound at 10 a.m. through Yeongpung Gate, which leads to an office for outside visitors. Officials from the civil affairs senior secretary and Presidential Security Service stopped them from going inside the compound after they entered the gate.

The Blue House said it will offer documents requested by the independent counsel, but entering the compound for a search and seizure won’t be allowed.

Last year, the special investigation team of the prosecution made an attempt to enter the compound during its initial investigation, but was blocked. At the time, the Blue House provided them with requested documents.

The independent counsel obtained a warrant with a specially extended expiration date because it anticipated resistance from the Blue House. Normally, a warrant for a search and seizure will expire after a week, but the court allowed a longer period.

Assistant counsel Lee said the warrant expires on Feb. 28 and the team will make additional attempts to raid the Blue House.

The independent counsel has repeatedly stressed the need to raid the Blue House ahead of its planned questioning of President Park. It earlier said it wants a face-to-face questioning of her before next Friday.

The warrant for the search and seizure stated a series of charges against Park. In addition to coercing conglomerates to make donations to two pet projects, Park’s alleged ordering of the government to create and operate a blacklist of artists critical of the administration was stated in the warrant.

The warrant also allows investigators to search and seize evidence to prove Park’s whereabouts and specific actions on the day of Sewol’s sinking on April 16, 2014.

Presidential spokesman Jung Youn-kuk argued that the president, whose impeachment has not been upheld by the Constitutional Court, still has immunity from criminal prosecution, and the independent counsel violated her privilege by naming her a suspect.

Article 84 of the Constitution says the president shall not be charged with a criminal offense during his or her tenure except for insurrection or treason.

Despite Jung’s argument, it does not protect her from an investigation.

“The Blue House seemed to fear that signs will be seen of evidence destruction led by the presidential security office,” an independent counsel source told the JoongAng Ilbo. At the beginning of the investigation, independent counsel Park said all records, including visitors’ logs related to the president, are managed by the presidential security office.

“If the records are not there, that is also in violation of the law governing the office,” he said.

The independent counsel team also conducted raids of the Fair Trade Commission and the Financial Services Commission on Friday.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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