By Park Si-soo
The prosecution has confirmed that officials of the Prime Minister's Office, suspected of illegally monitoring the activities of a businessman critical of President Lee Myung-bak, attempted to destroy evidence ahead of the prosecutors' raid on Friday.
Investigators plan to summon at least five officials, including Lee In-kyu, a senior official at the office's civil service ethics division, this week for questioning over their masterminding of illegal surveillance on the businessman for posting online video clips critical of President Lee in 2008.
The other four also belong to Lee's division whose mandate for investigations is ― in principle ― limited to government officials. The exact dates of their summons have yet to be decided.
Their summons came after prosecutors raided the Prime Minister's Office and homes of the officials involved last Friday. They seized computer servers, hard discs and e-mail correspondence records.
"We looked at them over the weekend," said a prosecutor familiar with the case.
He said it had been confirmed that the officials had colluded to conceal some "key" documents in a bid to scale down the ongoing probe ahead of the raid. He refused to further elaborate on what they referred to.
The raid helped prosecutors find another official involved in the alleged illegal surveillance, raising the number of involved officials to five, though prosecutors haven't ruled out the possibility that this could increase further.
"Given his position at the office, the newly found official was under the control of Lee and believed to have ample knowledge of the scandal," the prosecutor said.
Meanwhile, Lee Young-ho, presidential secretary for employment and labor who is allegedly involved in the scandal, tendered his resignation, a Cheong Wa Dae spokesman said.
The illegal surveillance allegation, which was brought to the surface earlier this month by MBC TV's investigative program "PD Notebook" and fueled by the main opposition Democratic Party (DP), has become the eye of the storm among politicians ahead of the National Assembly by-elections scheduled for July 28. Up for grabs are eight seats in Seoul, Incheon and Gwangju, and Gangwon and Chungcheong provinces.
The scandal is dealing another blow to the governing Grand National Party (GNP) and President Lee, both struggling to recover from defeats in the June 2 local elections. The President named a new chief of staff last week and will soon change major ministerial posts as part of efforts to restore public confidence in his government and the governing party.
Opposition legislators and liberal media are trying to capitalize on the illegal surveillance scandal, insisting that it was a political crackdown on supporters of President Lee's liberal predecessor, Roh Moo-hyun.
Rep. Cho Jeon-hyeok of the GNP, citing an unidentified informant, said the businessman under surveillance, Kim Jong-ik, established a company in 2005 with the aim of creating slush funds, which were supposed to be funneled to officials of the previous administration.
DP officials have called for an Assembly inquiry despite President Lee's order for a thorough investigation of the case by the prosecution.
"This case shouldn't be wrapped up by simply cutting off the snake's tail," said Rep. Jun Byung-hun of DP, adding that the probe should shed light on the entire chain of command to uncover who ordered the illegal act.
In an investigative report by MBC, Kim said government officials ransacked his company and confiscated financial records, and forced KB Bank, one of the firm's main clients, to discontinue doing business with it.
In the report, two DP lawmakers alleged that Lee In-kyu had ordered Kim to be monitored after he posted the video clip in September 2008, in the wake of massive protests against the administration for its resumption of U.S. beef imports.
Following the report, President Lee called for a prompt investigation into the allegations and stern punishment for any illegalities uncovered.
총리실 증거인멸 정황 포착
국무총리실의 '민간인 불법사찰' 의혹과 관련해, 이인규 공직윤리지원관 등이 조직적으로 증거를 없앤 정황이 검찰에 포착됐다.
검찰은 이르면 이번 주초 이 씨를 포함 5명을 소환해 조사할 방침이다. 4명도 이씨와 같은 부서에 속해 있으며 정확한 소환 일자는 아직 정해지지 않았다.
이들 소환은 지난 금요일 관련 공무원들의 사무실과 집을 압수수색에 이어 나온 것이다. 검찰은 컴퓨터 서버, 하드 디스크 이메일 교신 기록을 가져갔다.
한 검사는 “주말 이들을 치밀하게 들여다 봤다”고 밝혔다.