Prosecution widening probe into Cheong Wa Dae
Amid mounting suspicions of “improper investigations” by the office of the senior presidential secretary for civic affairs, the prosecution is seeking to conduct a search and seizure operation of its Cheong Wa Dae location, and will summon current and former officials for questioning.
Several incumbent and former officials working at the office are suspected of having exerted influence to abruptly end an investigation by a special team into alleged illegalities committed by former Busan Vice Mayor Yoo Jae-soo; and also to have meddled in last year’s local elections in Ulsan.
Some officials have already been summoned for questioning, while one of the former investigators, who was scheduled to be questioned Sunday afternoon about the election meddling allegations, killed himself hours before he was to appear before prosecutors.
Carrying out a search and seizure operation at Cheong Wa Dae, a facility linked to national security, is virtually impossible, therefore prosecutors are expected to ask the civic affairs office to submit requested documents.
The prosecution wants documentation related to the investigation into Yoo, which was being conducted by the special inspection team that was under the office itself.
The team reportedly used digital forensics in October 2017 to confirm allegations that Yoo took bribes from financial firms when he worked at the Financial Services Commission. But the investigation was abruptly halted for unknown reasons, helping Yoo to avoid being charged, and to become vice mayor in charge of economic affairs in 2018. Yoo is currently in custody on unrelated matters.
Cho Kuk, who was the senior presidential secretary for civic affairs at the time, and Baek Won-woo, a former presidential secretary for civic affairs, are expected to be summoned for questioning over their roles in the affair. Park Hyoung-chul, a former presidential anti-corruption secretary, has already been questioned.
Baek is also suspected of being involved in the presidential office’s alleged election-meddling.
In March last year, the Ulsan Metropolitan Police Agency raided the offices of then Ulsan Mayor Kim Gi-hyeon’s aides after receiving information on alleged corruption from the National Police Agency (NPA). The tip-off received by the NPA was forwarded by Baek.
However, the aides were cleared of all the accusations, but not until Kim lost the election, raising suspicions that the presidential office orchestrated the investigation to help a close friend of President Moon Jae-in win.