MBC report on Rhyu Si-min stirs controversy

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MBC report on Rhyu Si-min stirs controversy

Controversy continues to grow around an MBC report last week saying a cable network reporter tried to dig up dirt on Rhyu Si-min, head of the Roh Moo-hyun Foundation, flaunting his connections with prosecutors.

According to the MBC report last Tuesday, Lee Cheol, former CEO of Value Invest Korea (VIK) and a shareholder in biotech company SillaJen, who has been imprisoned for financial fraud since last year, was pressured by a Channel A reporter to provide harmful information about Rhyu, a former health minister and outspoken liberal pundit.

The Channel A reporter claimed he had connections with a senior prosecutor who is close to Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-yeol, MBC reported, and insinuated that Lee and his family could face more problems from the prosecution.

The reporter indicated that Lee, who was sentenced to 14 years in prison by the Supreme Court last September for fraud and embezzling some 700 billion won ($567 million) in investments, could face trouble if he didn’t cooperate - or might benefit if he did. MBC also broadcast a voice recording that seemed to back the idea of a collaboration between the reporter and a senior prosecutor.

Lee Cheol was a member of Nosamo, an internet-based group of supporters of former President Roh Moo-hyun. His ties with Rhyu Si-min dates back to 2010, when Lee supported Rhyu when he was the liberal candidate running for Gyeonggi governor, a race he lost.

The senior prosecutor alleged to be in collaboration with the reporter denied Wednesday the accusation reported by MBC.

However, there has been growing controversy over the source of the MBC story, a 55-year-old surnamed Ji, who is said to be a supporter of the Moon Jae-in administration who is reported to have been connected to Lee Cheol.

The main opposition United Future Party (UFP) accused Ji of being a part of a political strike at Prosecutor General Yoon. The Chosun Ilbo reported Friday that Ji has regularly criticized Yoon in public.

Ji claimed to have close ties with the ruling Democratic Party (DP) on his Facebook account days ahead of the MBC report and hinted at the upcoming news, including a post on March 30 that stated, “A god’s message came in my dream suddenly to watch MBC Newsroom tomorrow.” He deleted the messages subsequently.

The timing of the report also raised eyebrows because of its proximity to the April 15 general elections.

The UFP compared Ji’s revelations to a 2002 political brouhaha involving Kim Dae-up, a Korean Army officer, who leaked to media ahead of a presidential election that Grand National Party presidential candidate Lee Hoi-chang’s son dodged mandatory military service, a classic example of negative campaigning in Korea.

Courts later found it to be false accusations, and Kim was sentenced to over a year in prison. Lee lost the 2002 presidential election to Roh Moo-hyun.

Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae last Friday ordered a probe into the accusations of collaboration with prosecution “according to the law and principle,” noting “there is no exception for anyone.”

BY HAN YOUNG-IK, SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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