Ulsan probe calls upon witnesses

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Ulsan probe calls upon witnesses

Key witnesses in the Blue House’s alleged meddling in the 2018 Ulsan mayoral election were summoned by prosecutors for questioning over the weekend as authorities zero in on President Moon Jae-in’s former aides.

Song Byung-gi, Ulsan’s vice mayor for economic affairs, was summoned to the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office in Songpa District, southern Seoul, on Friday and Saturday as a witness. Park Gi-seong, chief secretary to former Ulsan Mayor Kim Gi-hyeon, was summoned to the same office as a witness on Saturday and Sunday.

In October 2017, Ulsan Vice Mayor Song tipped off a Blue House official working in the presidential secretary for civil affairs office about corruption allegations against Kim and his aides, which was made into a Blue House report to be passed on to the Ulsan police.

Police opened a probe into the suspicions shortly before the June 2018 Ulsan mayoral election, and Kim, who at the time was seeking a second term along with support from the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP), eventually lost to a candidate backed by the ruling Democratic Party.

Among Kim’s closest aides who were investigated for corruption charges was Park, Kim’s chief secretary. Park faced allegations that he intervened in a construction project for an Ulsan apartment complex by pressuring the construction company to sign a business deal with a ready-mixed concrete supplier in 2017.

Park, at the time, denied pressuring the construction company, saying he only “recommended” the company to choose a supplier from the Ulsan community as per the city’s ordinance related to boosting the local economy.

In May 2018, a month before the Ulsan mayoral election, police sent the case to Ulsan prosecutors asking them to indict Park. But Park was cleared of the charge in March this year, and he, Kim and the LKP have since accused the Blue House and Ulsan police of meddling in the election.

The Ulsan police chief, at the time, was Hwang Un-ha, who’s currently the police chief of Daejeon.

On Sunday, as Park arrived at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office for questioning, he told reporters that Ulsan police used a pseudonym for Ulsan Vice Mayor Song in their police reports while investigating former Ulsan Mayor Kim and his aides, which Park said made him think the police were “taking orders from someone.”

“[Daejeon] police chief Hwang Un-ha will now have to give an answer” to that suspicion, Park said.

Park firmly denied Ulsan Vice Mayor Song’s claims from Thursday that his tip-off to the Blue House contained nothing more than what was already reported in the local media in 2017, saying “there wasn’t a single news report” about his case at the time.

Prosecutors are expected to summon former Ulsan Mayor Kim, Hwang, and Baek Won-woo, the former presidential secretary for civil affairs, for questioning soon.

Cho Kuk, who was Baek’s supervisor and former presidential senior secretary for civil affairs, could be summoned as well, but not before getting summoned in a different probe related to the former Busan vice mayor.

The Seoul Eastern District Prosecutors’ Office is probing allegations that Blue House officials tried to cover up bribery allegations against Busan’s former Vice Mayor Yoo Jae-soo while he was head of the Financial Policy Bureau of the Financial Services Commission from August 2017 to March 2018.

Baek and Park Hyoung-chul, the presidential secretary for anticorruption, both are known to have told prosecutors recently that Cho ordered the cover-up. Cho is said to be denying that he acted alone in the cover-up.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, LEE GA-YOUNG [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]
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