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Ex-President Lee to reconsider PyeongChang invitation

A close aide to former President Lee Myung-bak strongly denounced the prosecution and the government Tuesday for pointing to Lee as the main culprit in a spy agency fund scandal.

The former lawmaker, Cho Hae-jin, also hinted that Lee is reconsidering accepting President Moon Jae-in’s invitation to the opening and closing ceremonies of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. 

Former President Lee Myung-bak (Yonhap)
Former President Lee Myung-bak (Yonhap)

“It is difficult to make a decision on Cheong Wa Dae’s invitation, while the prosecution and the incumbent government are putting (Lee) to shame (over the bribery scandal),” Cho said in a radio interview with the local broadcaster MBC on Tuesday.

“With a heavy heart, Lee accepted to show cooperation and for the sake of national interest. But now the prosecution has labeled (Lee) as the main culprit without verifying it with him, and is now talking about detaining him.”

Cho explained that other advisers to Lee were also enraged and quoted one as saying, “The government is pulling Lee’s hands on the table (to come) but is kicking him underneath.”

When asked if Lee would reject Moon’s invitation, Cho said it had not been decided yet.

“It is abnormal for them to say that so early. It is not right for them to investigate the suspected main culprit first before they look into others,” he said.

The remarks came after the prosecution indicted Lee’s former presidential aide Kim Paik-joon for receiving illicit funds from the National Intelligence Service on Monday.

In Kim’s indictment, the prosecution had identified Lee as the principal offender who ordered Kim to take the money, and accused Kim of abetting the act.

Lee has denied the allegations via a statement released by his secretary’s office, saying he was not aware that such a system even existed. The office also said the prosecution was running an investigation to insult Lee.

Kim, 78, who served as the senior presidential secretary for administrative affairs from 2009 to 2011, is one of Lee’s closest aides and has often been dubbed his “butler.”

Kim will stand trial, accused of taking 400 million won ($375,000) from the National Intelligence Service between 2008 and 2012, the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office said.

Kim has reportedly testified and made clear that he had received the money upon the order of the former president.

Following Monday’s indictment, prosecutors viewed it as inevitable that an investigation into Lee would start in March, after the Winter Games end.

On Sunday, the prosecution indicted Kim Jin-mo, presidential secretary for civil affairs from 2009 to 2011, on bribery and embezzlement charges. He is suspected of having taken about 50 million won from the NIS and using it to silence a whistle-blower who raised suspicions in April 2011 about the government’s illegal surveillance of civilians.

It also raided the offices of former Strategy and Finance Minister Park Jae-wan and a former senior presidential official on Tuesday for receiving part of the off-the-books “special activities” funds under the Lee administration.

The former president, who served in office from 2009 to 2013 is embroiled in a series of allegations, including operating slush funds via a local auto parts maker owned by his elder brother.

By Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp.com)
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