A half-baked indictmentThe prosecution on Friday indicted Lee Jin-seok, presidential secretary for state affairs monitoring, for unjustly using his influence to help ruling party candidate Song Cheol-ho win the mayoral election in Ulsan on June 13, 2018. With Lee’s indictment as the 15th defendant on the case, the prosecution has wrapped up a 17-month investigation into the alleged Blue House meddling in the local election.
Although the indictment listed eight Blue House offices involved in the election intervention, the prosecution did not press further charges on other key aides of the president — former chief of staff Im Jong-seok, former civil affairs senior secretary Cho Kuk and Lee Gwang-cheol, another secretary in the civil affairs office — due to a lack of evidence.
The prosecution embarked on the investigation in December 2019 and indicted 13 — including Ulsan mayor Song and Baek Won-woo, former secretary for civil affairs — in January last year. The number rose to 15 after additional investigations. But why the investigation that raised multitudes of allegations for grave election irregularities suddenly came to an end after the ruling Democratic Party (DP)’s crushing defeat in the by-elections raises questions.
Prosecutors could not find if President Moon Jae-in had been briefed on the campaign progress of his long-time friend and candidate Song. They could face a greater backlash later if they pardoned some of the former senior Blue House officials.
Over the last 17 months, the investigation faced upheavals. When it aimed at the president in August last year, Choo Mi-ae, justice minister at the time, dismantled the investigation team. The investigation went on to clash with pro-government prosecutor Lee Seong-yun, head of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office.
Judge Kim Mi-ri, who used to be a member of the progressive group of judges called Woori Law Society, has not convened a hearing since the first indictment was filed in January. The suspicion over the Blue House trying to obstruct the process of justice should be addressed. After the prosecution concluded their investigation, Im, Moon’s former chief of staff, claimed it was an “organized scheme against the Blue House.”
But due to too many lingering questions, some are already calling for a reinvestigation. The case is now in the hands of the court, but the prosecution must work hard to address the allegations.
Despite remaining questions, the prosecution has indicted as many as 15 officials close to the president. Instead of offering an apology, the Blue House only regretted the “indictment” of Lee, who the presidential office said has been playing an important role in fighting Covid-19.