NIS cut funds at suspicious time

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NIS cut funds at suspicious time

The presidential office of Park Geun-hye ordered the National Intelligence Service to stop diverting money to the Blue House after the media began reporting on suspicions surrounding Park and her aides, the JoongAng Ilbo reported Wednesday, quoting sources from the prosecution investigating the alleged transfer.

Investigators obtained a statement saying that a Blue House official contacted the NIS last summer to tell it to stop the transfers, the sources said.

“They abruptly and urgently shut down the routine transfers,” a prosecution source said, “because the Blue House and the NIS were both aware that it was illegal to give and take that money.”

The prosecution is now trying to identify the official involved.

Ahn and Lee admitted to receiving the money, a prosecution source said Wednesday. An NIS official reportedly hand-delivered the funds in cash.

Two former presidential secretaries, Ahn Bong-geun and Lee Jae-man, were arrested on Tuesday for allegedly receiving the money. The homes and offices of three former NIS heads were also raided that day.

The NIS diverted about 4 billion won ($3.57 million) from its special expense accounts during Park’s presidency, the prosecution claims, or 100 million won every month from early 2013. Park took office in February 2013 and was impeached and removed in March of this year. According to the prosecution, the transfers stopped in July of last year.

At the time, media was reporting on scandals surrounding Park and her aides. Reports accused Woo Byung-woo, then the senior civil affairs secretary, of having dubious real estate dealings with Nexon, a game developer, starting from July 18, 2016.

The media also started reporting on the Park Blue House’s suspicious ties to the nonprofit Mi-R and K-Sports foundations on July 26, 2016. Park was investigated by prosecutors and an independent counsel and is currently standing criminal trial on charges of receiving bribes from conglomerates using these foundations.

The prosecution suspects that one of Park’s three long-time aides contacted the NIS to stop the transfers. Ahn, Lee and Jeong Ho-seong served Park for years, and the three were nicknamed the “doorknobs to the president” for their control over access to her.

The prosecution is looking into how the money was used, as there were suspicions that Ahn and Lee spent some of the money privately, including the possibility that they used NIS funds to purchase apartments in Seoul in 2014 or that the money was sent to higher officials in the Blue House or spent to back the election campaigns of Park allies. One investigator said, “The funds were spent for purposes that no one can possibly defend.”

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