Partisan confrontation over surveillance case heats up
Former Gov't blamed for 80 percent of cases
By Park Si-soo
Ruling and opposition parties have ratcheted up criticism over the administration’s illegal surveillance of civilians and politicians over the weekend, with Cheong Wa Dae launching a counterattack.
The presidential office said Sunday more than 80 percent of 2,619 illegal surveillance cases, divulged last week, occurred during the presidency of Roh Moo-hyun, the late predecessor of President Lee Myung-bak.
It admitted to having committed roughly 400 cases of spying, but tried to highlight the wrongdoing by the previous administration to rein in further spread of criticism against the ruling camp in the lead-up to the April 11 National Assembly Elections.
“As announced, the previous administration was confirmed to have spied on numerous civilians and politicians illegally,” Choe Geum-nak, a senior presidential secretary for public relations, told reporters, Sunday, referring to the announcement by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) earlier in the day. Choe identified several politicians, who he claimed were affected by the earlier surveillance.
The presidential secretary denounced the largest opposition Democratic United Party (DUP) for using the snowballing scandal as a tool to affect the upcoming elections. Lee has remained silent on the matter.
Earlier, Lim Jong-yong, minister of the PMO, urged the ruling Saenuri Party and the DUP to stop attacking the government with “unconfirmed” stories.
“With nothing being confirmed (regarding the scandal), further revelations and discussion on the matter could distort facts,” Lim said.
He urged parties to take a wait-and-see attitude until the end of the ongoing investigation by the prosecution. The Seoul Central Prosecutors’ Office is investigating several former government officials suspected of having contributed to the illegal surveillance.
Last Friday, a KBS labor union reported that it had obtained thousands of classified government reports confirming the government’s extensive surveillance on civilians and politicians between 2008 and 2010 with detailed explanation about their activities against President Lee and his policies. Some in the reports actually saw their business interrupted by government forces.
Members of the union have been boycotting news production for nearly one month, condemning biased news coverage under the leadership of Kim In-kyu who they claimed is loyal to the President.
The report prompted the DUP to call on Lee to resign and dismiss those Cabinet ministers and secretaries responsible.
Apparently mindful of the scandal's explosive impact on the election, the ruling and opposition parties called for a special investigation but differed on how it should be carried out.
The DUP has gone one step further, calling on Lee to step down to take responsibility for it.
“An emergency measure must be taken immediately to dig out the truth,” said DUP Chairwoman Han Myeong-sook in a press conference Sunday. “The specter of dirty politics that existed in the authoritarian era has resurfaced, posing a grave threat to Korea’s justice.”
Park Geun-hye, head of the Saenuri Party’s interim leadership committee, echoed the view, underscoring the need to launch an independent probe.
“I don’t rule out the possibility that I was subject to the spying,” Park said while campaigning in Busan. “There is nothing that can justify it.”
Her criticism is widely seen as an effort to distance her party from President Lee ahead of the April 11 elections.
Park and Lee have been at odds ever since 2007 when they competed to become the presidential candidate of then the largest opposition Grand National Party, which is now the ruling Saenuri Party.
The upcoming vote is crucial for both parties since its results will shape the overall political landscape leading toward the Dec. 19 presidential poll.