NATIONAL

[Newsmaker] Prosecution opens probe into former leader Lee

By Ock Hyun-ju
  • Published : Sept 20, 2017 - 17:53
  • Updated : Sept 21, 2017 - 14:01

The prosecution on Wednesday began looking into a complaint filed against former President Lee Mung-bak that he masterminded the national spy agency’s alleged smear campaign against Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, then a vocal critic of him.

The former president has been under siege amid mounting accusations of alleged state-led irregularities during his 2009-2013 presidency, including the spy agency’s election manipulation and suppression of left-wing cultural figures. 

Former President Lee Myung-bak gets off a vehicle in front of his office in Gangnam, southern Seoul, Sept. 4. (Yonhap)

Ongoing prosecutorial investigations into these cases, however, are yet to reach Lee, despite suspicion that the former conservative leader may have been the one behind the illicit activities.

But a direct inquiry of Lee now seems inevitable, as the mayor on Tuesday formally requested prosecutors to investigate him, along with 10 others including former National Intelligence Service director Won Sei-hoon, for possible charges of abuse of power, defamation and eavesdropping.

More are set to follow suit, filing a complaint against Lee.

Comedian Kim Mi-hwa and veteran actor and former lawmaker Moon Seong-guen on Wednesday made clear their intention to do so. The two are among the 82 figures allegedly blacklisted by the Lee government and unfairly deprived of access to various state-led projects.

The NIS, under Lee as president and Won as chief, faces several seemingly grave allegations. It is accused of drawing up plans to suppress Seoul Mayor Park, then a human rights lawyer and civic activist; implementing a blacklist of cultural figures critical of the administration; and operating an online smear campaign to sway a 2012 presidential election in favor of then-conservative candidate Park Geun-hye.

An internal taskforce of the NIS has earlier revealed internal documents, presumably written under ex-NIS chief Won’s direction, which contained plans to crack down on Mayor Park and stymie his policy initiatives between 2009 and 2011.

The taskforce was formed after liberal President Moon Jae-in took office in May to look into the intelligence body’s alleged interference in domestic politics. Moon won the election on a promise to eradicate “deep-rooted evil” laid bare by the corruption scandal that brought down former President Park Geun-hye.

On Wednesday, the prosecution searched the residence of a former secretary general of an ultraright-wing civic group, which is suspected of receiving financial support from the NIS for holding rallies against the Seoul mayor.

A separate fact-finding team under the Culture Ministry is looking into former President Park’s implementation of a similar blacklist aimed at disadvantaging liberal cultural figures. Ex-President Park, who succeeded Lee to elongate the conservative rule, was ousted from office in March following a sweeping corruption scandal.

The prosecution is also investigating the election-meddling scandal surrounding the covert online operation by NIS personnel to help then-conservative presidential candidate Park Geun-hye beat her rival and incumbent President Moon.

The prosecution is set to summon a NIS official, Lee Jong-myung, on Thursday. He was in charge of the secret operation at the spy agency under the order of former NIS chief Won, who was convicted of masterminding the online campaign to boost support for Park Guen-hye during his term between 2009 and 2013.

Lee’s subordinate Min Byung-joo, leader of a psychological warfare unit, was arrested a day earlier for paying billions of state money to civilians to write comments and posts in favor of Park Geun-hye and critical of Moon on social media and news sites. Min already received a suspended term for the NIS’ interference in the 2012 election.

According to the prosecution, the NIS ran about 30 “cyber teams” tasked with orchestrating the smear campaign, with each team composed of 20 to 30 NIS psychological warfare agents and internet-savvy civilians.

Park Geun-hye defeated Moon by a narrow margin, to become the country’s first female president in the 2012 vote. She was removed from office over a corruption scandal, and is now detained while on trial facing charges including bribery and abuse of power.

By Ock Hyun-ju (laeticia.ock@heraldcorp.com)

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