Document scandal intensifies

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Document scandal intensifies

Controversy intensified Tuesday over the Blue House’s handling of a massive trove of documents left behind by the former president, as opposition parties questioned the Moon Jae-in administration’s motives for announcing the content of documents they offered to an independent counsel.

Documents created by aides of then-President Park Geun-hye were found in cabinets at the Blue House in two separate occasions this month. The first batch of 300 documents was found on July 3 and the second batch of 1,361 documents was discovered on Friday.

The Blue House sent copies of some reports to the team of Independent Counsel Park Young-soo because they contain the Park Blue House’s positions on the main charges in the ongoing trials of the former president, her friend Choi Soon-sil and Samsung scion Lee Jae-yong. The independent counsel investigated the abuse of power and bribery scandal involving the impeached leader, her aides and conglomerates earlier this year.

“The Blue House made an arbitrary judgment and asked for a live press briefing to make public the contents of the documents, but I understand why they are making a fuss,” Rep. Chung Woo-taik, floor leader of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, said Tuesday in an interview with SBS radio. The conservative party was the ruling party during the Park administration and Park is still its member.

“Perhaps they have a dirty intention to intervene in the trials by manipulating the public opinions,” he said. He also criticized the Blue House’s handling of the documents. “They should have inquired the former presidential aides in charge of the records or consulted the presidential archive,” Chung said. “But they kept it for days after their first discovery. They analyzed them and judged them. This is suspicious.”

Rep. Choung Tae-ok of the Liberty Korea Party also suspected the Moon Blue House for trying to influence the ongoing trial concerning Samsung leader Lee. He was accused of offering bribes to Park in return for the Blue House’s support for a generational shift of power of the country’s largest company. “The trial will have its final hearing in early August,” Choung said. “They are overreaching to prove the [bribery] charge.”

At the National Assembly’s Legislation and Judiciary Committee, lawmakers also questioned the Blue House’s decision to hand over some copies of the documents to the independent counsel. The independent counsel offered them to the prosecution for further investigation.

“The Blue House should have tried to find a way to send the documents to the presidential archive,” said Rep. Lee Yong-ju of the People’s Party. “The Blue House’s arbitrary decision to offer them to the independent counsel has no legal ground.”

The ruling party defended the Blue House’s handling of the documents. “The recovered documents are not confidential presidential records,” Rep. Park Beok-kye of the Democratic Party said. “They seemed to contain many clues that will prove crimes, and sending copies to the prosecution for an investigation to serve the public interest is not a problem.”

Documents the Blue House considered worth saving are designated presidential records under the law and are kept at the presidential archive at the end of a president’s term. After the Constitutional Court ended Park’s term in March, the Blue House started classifying records to be sent to the archive, designating many to be sealed for 30 years.

Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, acting president at the time, and Blue House Chief of Staff Han Kwang-ok oversaw the operation to seal the records. The operation normally takes six months, but the Park Blue House only had two months because Park was impeached and Moon was elected in a snap election. Experts and former presidential aides, however, said it was unimaginable that such a lengthy paper trail of sensitive information was left behind despite the shorter period of time.

When the Blue House announced the discovery of the documents on Friday and Monday, presidential spokesman Park Soo-hyun discussed some of their contents and specifically made public the content of a report on the National Pension Service’s voting rights, which discussed the Park Blue House’s plan to support Samsung’s generational shift of power, during his Friday briefing on the first batch of documents. In his Monday briefing, Park said the second batch of paper trails contained “unlawful orders” made by Park’s top aides on sensitive issues such as the 2015 agreement with Japan to settle the comfort women issue and the 2014 sinking of the Sewol ferry.

He said the documents were apparently not presidential records to be sealed in the archive because they are not marked as confidential. He also argued that handwritten memos and copies are not presidential records, and that it is not illegal to make public some information.

Rep. Park Chan-woo of the Liberty Korea Party, who served as the head of the National Archives of Korea during the Roh Moo-hyun administration, said the Moon Blue House’s handling of the documents was inappropriate. He said classifying the documents’ confidential levels should be done by the Park aides and the presidential archive, not the current Blue House.

“The intention of the act on the management of the presidential archives is to bar the incoming administration from seeing the previous administration’s records,” he said. “Instead of analyzing them, the Blue House must send them immediately to the presidential archive and allow the professionals there to classify them.”

BY SER MYO-JA, KO JUNG-AE [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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