By Lee Hyo-sik
Lee Young-ho, a former presidential secretary for employment and labor relations, has been banned from leaving the country over his alleged involvement in the government’s illegal surveillance of citizens critical of President Lee Myung-bak in 2008, the prosecution said Sunday.
Lee is suspected of having provided Chang Jin-soo, a former ethics official at the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), with 20 million won ($18,000) last year in an attempt to keep Chang from disclosing Cheong Wa Dae’s alleged involvement in covering up the case.
A special team of four prosecutors was set up at the Seoul Central Prosecutors’ Office Friday to reinvestigate the scandal, following an allegation that the presidential office was involved and attempted to cover it up. In its initial probe in 2010, the prosecution failed to find any link between the PMO workers and Cheong Wa Dae, drawing charges of negligence.
Over the weekend, the prosecution banned Lee from traveling abroad. It plans to summon Chang, who raised the latest allegation that the presidential office orchestrated the surveillance and the cover-up of evidence, for questioning as early as Tuesday.
Investigators are also trying to secure the custody of a former Cheong Wa Dae staffer Choi Jong-seok who allegedly ordered Chang to destroy evidence. Cho currently works at the Korean Embassy in Washington D.C., but since last Tuesday when Chang’s accusations surfaced, his whereabouts have remained unknown.
The prosecution team is expected to focus on whether the presidential office attempted to cover up the surveillance case, and whether any high-ranking officials were involved.
Meanwhile, Yim Tae-hee, former presidential chief of staff, was found to have provided money to the families of Lee In-kyu, a former head of the public ethics division at the PMO, and other officials ahead of the Chuseok holiday in 2010. They were all behind bars at the time for their involvement in the surveillance case.
But Yim flatly denied the suspicion that the money was offered in compensation. He said he sought to console their families as he worked with them when he was serving as employment and labor minister.
The surveillance scandal dates back to 2010 when businessman Kim Jong-ik claimed the PMO monitored him, raided his office and examined his bank accounts in 2008 after he posted video clips critical of President Lee. Several ruling party lawmakers also claimed they and their family members were monitored, too.
At the time, the prosecution ended its probe, only indicting seven lower-ranking officials including Chang, who was sentenced to eight months in prison with the term suspended for two years.
But Chang recently revealed the presidential office’s alleged involvement — he alleged that two days before July 7 in 2010 when the prosecution raided his office, Choi ordered him to destroy computers of PMO staffers who were in charge of the surveillance.
Chang also claimed that Lee Young-ho attempted to bribe him with 20 million won in 2011 in an apparent move to cover up Cheong Wa Dae’s involvement.