The top spy must be investigatedPark Jie-won, chief of the National Intelligence Service (NIS), has stepped onto center stage in the scandal over former Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl, a presidential candidate of the opposition People Power Party (PPP), who was accused of trying to have the opposition party file a criminal complaint against ruling party-affiliated figures. Suspicions about his involvement were raised by Cho Sung-eun, the whistleblower and a former member of the United Future Party (now the PPP). In a TV interview, she said that the news break on the affair did not fall on the date “the NIS director or I had wanted or discussed.”
Although she denied any involvement, she had a slip of the tongue when she implied his order came on a specific date. Park met Cho in a hotel diner on Aug. 11 — shortly before an online news outlet reported that a senior prosecutor loyal to Yoon had handed over a copy of criminal complaint against pro-government figures to the United Future Party ahead of the April 15 parliamentary elections last year.
Cho denied that her whistleblowing was triggered by the NIS chief. Park, the top spy, also strongly denied the allegation. He accused the PPP of barking up the wrong tree and making him a scapegoat to save former Prosecutor General Yoon. But the suspicion cannot go away easily.
Yoon filed a complaint over Park and Cho with the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking officials for violating the NIS Act and Public Employees Election Law. PPP members are demanding that Park resign. PPP Chairman Lee Jun-seok also accused Park of coaching Cho to blow the whistle on Yoon.
After taking office in July, Park promised that NIS employees will keep their distance from politics to ensure neutrality of the spy agency. But he had met with Cho who was planning to expose an allegation on a presidential hopeful from the opposition party.
The Moon Jae-in administration repeatedly declared the NIS’s break from politics. Soon after his inauguration, President Moon vowed not to demand loyalty from the NIS. In June, he even said he had kept the promise to make the NIS politically independent by amending the NIS Act. But a NIS chief has come under controversy again for trying to meddle in an election. Park must better explain himself and comply with the investigation.