Arrest denial sets back probe into Ulsan poll

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Arrest denial sets back probe into Ulsan poll

A Seoul court Tuesday night rejected a pretrial detention warrant for Ulsan’s vice mayor for economic affairs, Song Byung-gi, a major setback for prosecutors investigating suspicions that the Blue House meddled in the 2018 Ulsan mayoral election to help the ruling Democratic Party’s (DP) candidate win.

In October 2017, Song tipped off a Blue House official working in the presidential secretary for civil affairs office about corruption allegations against then-Ulsan Mayor Kim Gi-hyeon and his aides, which was made into a Blue House report to be passed 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, eventually lost to the DP’s candidate, current Ulsan Mayor Song Cheol-ho.

A follow-up investigation by prosecutors eventually cleared Kim and his aides of any wrongdoing in March 2019, and prosecutors have since been probing whether the police investigation was intended to sway public opinion in favor of the DP.

On Tuesday night, just minutes before the New Year, the Seoul Central District Court rejected the prosecution’s request to detain Ulsan Vice Mayor Song on allegations of conspiring with Blue House officials to influence the 2018 Ulsan election, saying there was a lack of probable cause and necessity to detain Song.

Song denied the allegations earlier that day when he was called into the court to defend himself during a review session of his detention warrant. The hearing went on from 10:25 a.m. to 1:20 p.m.

The rejection was a setback for prosecutors who had been planning to summon high-level Blue House officials to figure out who in the presidential office ordered the police to investigate former Ulsan Mayor Kim and how they colluded with current Ulsan Vice Mayor Song and Ulsan Mayor Song in the election.

Last month, the Blue House said it looked into the case on its own to figure out whether officials intended to meddle in the 2018 Ulsan mayoral election but didn’t say for sure who passed the information to the police.

Blue House spokeswoman Ko Min-jung cited former Presidential Secretary for Civil Affairs Baek Won-woo as saying he “can’t remember” seeing the Blue House report.

BY KIM MIN-SANG, LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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