Ulsan police raided in mayoral election probe

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Ulsan police raided in mayoral election probe

Prosecutors Tuesday raided the Ulsan police agency amid a probe into allegations that the Blue House meddled in the 2018 Ulsan mayoral election.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office ordered a search of several units of the Ulsan Metropolitan Police Agency, including the intelligence unit, amid a probe into whether the Blue House ordered police to investigate former Ulsan Mayor Kim Gi-hyeon. Some 20 investigators searched the agency confiscating records and hard drives of officials who had been involved in the probe into Kim.

Prosecutors have been looking into an allegation that the Blue House triggered a police investigation of then Ulsan Mayor Kim on accusations of corruption three months before he ran for a second term in the June 13 local elections.

Kim, seeking reelection as a candidate of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP), ultimately lost that election to Song Cheol-ho, the candidate of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and a longtime friend of President Moon Jae-in. A follow-up investigation by the prosecution of Kim eventually cleared him and his aides of any wrongdoing in March this year.

Prosecutors on Tuesday also conducted a raid into the residence and vehicle of Lim Dong-ho, a former senior member of the ruling Democratic Party and Ulsan Mayor Song’s rival in the primary for the 2018 elections, for documents related to meetings in 2017 and election strategy.

Song Byung-gi, Ulsan’s vice mayor for economic affairs and the alleged source who gave a tip-off to a Blue House official accusing former Mayor Kim’s aides of corruption in October 2017, claimed prosecution illegally wiretapped him during a press conference at the Ulsan Metropolitan Government Monday. Song said that prosecutors during questioning last week played to him a phone call on Dec. 15 between him and Ulsan Mayor Song Cheol-ho recorded through a suspicious manner, pointing out only he and Mayor Song should have been privy to the conversation.

He added that prosecutors played the recorded phone call between him and the Ulsan mayor to try to prove a point that he and then mayoral candidate Song met a Blue House official on March 31, 2018, as written in his notebook confiscated by prosecutors.

“This phone call on Dec. 15 with Mayor Song was made after testifying to prosecution, and I raised objection after being surprised that my personal phone call was recorded,” Vice Mayor Song said. “I asked prosecutors if this was obtained through a legitimate manner, but they were not able to respond.”

For the past month, the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office has been investigating suspicions that the Blue House interfered in last year’s election. The Blue House has rejected all allegations of election-meddling. Vice Mayor Song was summoned and questioned by prosecutors three times this month, including last Friday, on alleged violation of election laws.

Song also said during the press conference that he doesn’t remember all the contents of what was written in his personal notebook currently seized by prosecutors, and described its contents as being “merely thoughts jotted down that are not necessarily facts that can be filled with errors.”

Prosecutors raided Vice Mayor Song’s residence on Dec. 6 and obtained a notebook, which was reported to have contained formation indicating he held several meetings with Blue House officials before the 2018 election. This notebook reportedly mentioned phrases like “BH [Blue House] meeting” and “BH visit,” and that Song talked with officials from the presidential office.

Song described that prosecutors are mistaking this notebook as being work-related but stressed that it was just his own personal notebook where he jotted down his musings, rumors and impressions. In contrast a work notebook in principle, he said would usually record the place, time and plans.

However, prosecutors in turn said to such accusations of wiretapping that the recording of the phone conversation was actually provided by an acquaintance of Mayor Song, an official of the Ulsan city government. This Ulsan city government official has been called in by prosecution for questioning recently, and his confiscated mobile phone included a recording of the conversation between the two Songs. Mayor Song had borrowed this city official’s mobile phone to make the call to the vice mayor, and the phone automatically recorded the conversation, according to prosecutors.

Prosecutors added that based on the contents of this conversation, Mayor Song appeared to be trying to conceal evidence. Prosecution is reportedly mulling filing for an arrest warrant for Vice Mayor Song for violation of election law soon.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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