By Jun Ji-hye
Cheong Wa Dae faced allegations Thursday that it has "systematically" destroyed evidence concerning the corruption scandal involving former President Park Geun-hye since the affair surfaced last September.
Rep. Back Hye-ryun of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) said that the presidential office bought a total of 26 paper shredders between September and February, citing data from the Public Procurement Service.
The lawmaker said such a purchase was unusual, given that Cheong Wa Dae had not bought any shredders for six months before the scandal.
It bought two shredders Sept. 27, a week after the media reported Park's longtime friend Choi Soon-sil, a central figure in the corruption scandal, was behind the establishment of the K-Sports Foundation. Choi is suspected of pursuing her own interest through the foundation set up allegedly after she and Park extorted a large sum of money from leading conglomerates.
It bought six shredders Oct. 25, a day after cable TV network JTBC reported the discovery of Choi's tablet PC, which contained confidential presidential documents.
The office again purchased six shredders Nov. 7, a few days after Choi was arrested; and six more Jan. 11 during the investigation by an independent counsel into the high-profile scandal.
Another six arrived Feb. 2, a day before the independent counsel team attempted to search Cheong Wa Dae. At the time, the search and seizure attempt was blocked by the presidential office.
"The intensive buying of shredders shows Cheong Wa Dae systematically attempted to destroy evidence," Back said during a party meeting. "It is a grave offense. The problem is the presidential office can continue to destroy evidence even now."
The opposition parties called on state prosecutors to immediately conduct a search of Cheong Wa Dae.
Back said, "If the presidential office stops the investigators' search attempt again, it will show that it is a criminal group, no more, no less."
DPK spokeswoman Rep. Park Kyung-mee said, "The presidential office is destroying evidence including presidential records."
The suspicion of destruction of evidence is expected to be one of the main issues during Park's face-to-face questioning set for Tuesday.
Denial of allegations
Meanwhile, the office denied the allegations, saying the purpose of the purchase was not to destroy evidence, but just to replace aging paper shredders.
"The shredders need to be replaced every 11 years," spokesman Jung Youn-kuk said. "Those replaced in recent months were purchased and handed over by the Roh Moo-hyun government."
Park was removed from office on March 10 after the Constitutional Court upheld a National Assembly impeachment bill. She left Cheong Wa Dae, March 12, and moved to her private residence in Samseong-dong, southern Seoul.
The former president was impeached by the National Assembly in December for allegedly letting her friend Choi Soon-sil meddle in state affairs and colluding with her to extort millions of dollars from local conglomerates including Samsung Group.
Park has vehemently denied any wrongdoing, indicating that she does not accept the court ruling.
In a statement read by her former spokesman, Rep. Min Kyung-wook of the Liberty Korea Party, she said, "Although it may take time, I believe the truth will eventually be revealed."
Meanwhile, prosecutors questioned three former and incumbent senior executives of SK Group in their investigation into the bribery charges levelled against Park.
A senior prosecutor on the investigation team said they may summon officials from other conglomerates, such as Lotte and CJ, if necessary.