Investigator found dead amid probe

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Investigator found dead amid probe

An investigator at the Seoul Eastern District Prosecutors’ Office who was previously dispatched to work for the Blue House was found dead on Sunday afternoon in an apparent suicide, just hours before he was scheduled to appear for questioning in a widening election-meddling probe.

The investigator, who was only identified as a 48-year-old man, was found dead on Sunday at around 3 p.m. in an office owned by his acquaintance in Seocho District, southern Seoul, according to police.

Police found in the office what appeared to be a handwritten note, in which the investigator apologized to his family. Police said the memo did not contain anything about the probe he was involved in.

Just three hours later, he was supposed to appear at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office as a witness to offer his testimony about his time in the Blue House senior secretary for civil affairs office.

It was not immediately known precisely when the investigator was dispatched to the Blue House, but prosecutors said he used to work for the presidential senior secretary for civil affairs in the former conservative Lee Myung-bak administration and again in the current liberal Moon Jae-in administration. The investigator was said to have worked under Baek Won-woo, Moon’s former secretary for civil affairs, whose office was under former Senior Secretary for Civil Affairs Cho Kuk.

The investigator was a member of an inspection bureau led by Baek, which was in charge of investigating Moon’s close aides and his relatives. That inspection bureau was run separately from the inspection bureau of the presidential secretary for anti-corruption, which was also in charge of monitoring the president’s aides and relatives of possible corruption.

The inspection bureau led by Baek was known to have been called the “special relationship team” by Blue House officials, in order to differentiate the two inspection groups.

Baek has been facing allegations that he compiled a report accusing the aides of Ulsan’s former mayor of misconduct and passed the report to the police, pressuring officers to investigate them three months before the mayor tried to run for a second term last year.

Former Ulsan Mayor Kim Gi-hyeon, who was nominated by the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) in March 2018 to serve four more years, lost to Song Cheol-ho, the ruling Democratic Party’s candidate, who’s known to have close ties with Moon.

Sources from political and legal circles who exclusively spoke with the JoongAng Ilbo last week said that Park Hyoung-chul, Moon’s secretary for anti-corruption, met with an investigator from Ulsan’s prosecution last month and testified that Baek compiled the report on Kim’s aides.

If true, that would mean Baek possibly looked into a person he wasn’t supposed to look into because his office is in charge of monitoring the activities of the president’s relatives and top government officials, not elected mayors. The report was eventually passed on from the Blue House to the Korean National Police Agency in October 2017 and then to the Ulsan Metropolitan Police Agency in December 2017. Ulsan police launched an investigation into the allegations in March 2018, three months before the Ulsan mayoral election.

In March 2018, Ulsan police launched a probe into Kim’s younger sibling and Kim’s chief secretary on allegations they interfered in construction deals.

The police referred the cases to Ulsan prosecutors on May 11, just a month before the June 13 local elections. In March this year, Ulsan prosecutors cleared them of their charges and criticized Ulsan police for “causing controversy” by failing to keep with political neutrality and abusing their investigative authority.

The LKP filed a complaint against Ulsan’s police chief who supervised the investigation, who’s now the police chief of Daejeon, Hwang Un-ha, accusing him of abusing his official authority and violating the Public Official Election Law.

Recent news reports accusing the Blue House of meddling in the Ulsan mayoral election first emerged last week when Ulsan prosecutors, who have been looking into the LKP’s complaint, said they handed the case over to the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office after spending nearly a year questioning witnesses.

Ulsan prosecutors said the case was referred to Seoul prosecutors because “most people” related to it were in Seoul. Seoul prosecutors have since been reviewing the documents and summoning witnesses, including the investigator who was found dead Sunday.

Prosecutors are known to have obtained a tip-off that members of Baek’s special relationship team traveled to Ulsan when Ulsan police were investigating the former Ulsan mayor in order to see how the police probe was going, fanning speculation that the Blue House was pressuring the Ulsan police. The investigator who died finished his term in Baek’s office last February, after which he returned to the prosecution.

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