Presidential secretary Lee indicted in travel ban case
President Moon Jae-in's secretary for civil affairs was indicted Thursday for abuse of power for allegedly masterminding a travel ban on a top official from the previous administration.
The Suwon District Prosecutors’ Office’s Criminal Department III indicted Presidential Secretary for Civil Affairs Lee Kwang-cheol, a key member of the Blue House inner circle, for arranging an illegal travel ban on former Vice Minister of Justice Kim Hak-eui in 2019. The indictment was filed with the Seoul Central District Court so Lee can be tried with other government officials indicted earlier in the case.
Lee said the indictment was unjust, according to a Blue House statement, but still tendered his resignation to Moon.
According prosecutors, Lee was behind the government officials who circumvented the law to slap an overseas travel ban on the scandal-plagued Kim, who was being investigated for taking bribes and sexual favors from businessmen from 2006 to 2009.
Kim resigned as vice justice minister in March 2013 after six days on the job following circulation of a video that appeared to show him engaging in sexual intercourse with a woman at a party. He was investigated by the prosecution in 2013 and 2014 but cleared each time.
A third probe, ordered by Moon, was carried out in March 2019.
Kim attempted to fly to Bangkok from Incheon International Airport on March 23, 2019. Just 10 minutes before departure, he was stopped by immigration officers from boarding the plane. It was later revealed that Lee Gyu-won, a prosecutor in the Supreme Prosecutors' Office, had requested an emergency travel ban two minutes earlier.
Kim was eventually jailed in October 2020 after an appellate court overturned an earlier acquittal on a bribery charge.
The prosecution concluded that Lee Kwang-cheol, who was a senior assistant secretary for civil affairs in March 2019, played a key role in Kim’s travel ban. Prosecutors said Lee arranged the contact between Cha Gyun-geun, head of the Korea Immigration Service, which is under the Justice Ministry, and Prosecutor Lee Gyu-won so the travel ban could be issued.
After the indictments of Cha and Lee Gyu-won in April, prosecutors summoned Lee Kwang-cheol and questioned him.
Lee’s indictment was filed at a sensitive time: the last day before the team on the case at the Suwon District Prosecutors’ Office is dismantled.
When Justice Minister Park Beok-kye reshuffled mid-level prosecution leaders en masse last month, the team’s head, Lee Jeong-seob, was sent to the Daegu District Prosecutors’ Office, considered a demotion. Prosecutor Lee Sang-hyeok, also on the team, was assigned to the Daejeon District Prosecutors’ Office.
The reassignments were effective as Friday, and Thursday was the prosecutors’ last day on the investigation.
According to prosecution sources, the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office reluctantly approved the indictment of the presidential secretary on Wednesday.
They said the Suwon prosecutors decided to indict Lee on May 12 and briefed the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office. The top prosecutors’ office, however, delayed approval of the indictment. The Suwon prosecution made another push on June 24 and got the green light Wednesday.
Lee, a progressive lawyer, joined the Blue House shortly after Moon’s presidential victory in 2017 as a senior assistant secretary. He was promoted to presidential secretary for civil affairs in August 2019.
Earlier this year, Lee narrowly avoided criminal indictment in a separate abuse of power case. Lee was questioned about an allegation that he and other key members of the Blue House had abused power to help Moon’s friend, Song Cheol-ho, win the Ulsan mayoral election in 2018.
While the prosecution indicted Lee Jin-seok, current presidential secretary for state affairs monitoring, on charges of election law violations on April, 31 others probed in the case, including Lee, were spared.
BY SER MYO-JA [firstname.lastname@example.org]
BY SER MYO-JA [email@example.com]