Is it President’s Watergate?
By Park Si-soo
Is it a Watergate redux or a case similar to U.S. Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North taking the fall for late President Ronald Reagan?
Or perhaps, President Lee Myung-bak simply didn’t know anything about his aides hustling and bustling behind his back to spy on detractors.
It may require an independent prosecutor or a parliamentary investigation to find out after Lee leaves office, considering the prosecution’s predilection for those in power.
At any rate, it is ever closer than before to uncovering the truth with two former presidential secretaries arrested Tuesday night for destroying evidence in an investigation into the snowballing illegal surveillance scandal.
This is expected to give the prosecution the impetus to expand its probe into what analysts describe as a “great election-year embarrassment” for the government and ruling Saenuri Party.
The largest opposition Democratic United Party (DUP) is calling for a no-holds-barred inquiry by the prosecution, insisting that there must be other higher ranking officials who masterminded the unlawful surveillance of citizens by the government.
The DUP has pinpointed President Lee Myung-bak as the “core” of the case, highlighting the alleged immoral nature of his administration in the lead up to the April 11 National Assembly elections.
However, Cheong Wa Dae has vehemently denied further involvement of its former and incumbent members, not to mention President Lee, in an apparent move to rein in the further spread of negative sentiment toward the government.
It urged the DUP to refrain from spreading “unfounded stories” until the end of the ongoing investigation.
Lee Young-ho, one of the two arrested officials, has echoed Cheong Wa Dae’s position, portraying himself as the “central figure” in the crime.
The DUP fought back with allegations that there was an unofficial reporting channel through which intelligence operatives had sent reports on activities of citizens, politicians and businessmen critical of Lee and his policies directly to the “VIP,” a slang term for the head of state.
Rep. Park Young-sun underscored the existence of the alleged unofficial reporting route in a Sunday press briefing, citing a pile of classified government documents about some 2,600 surveillance cases, which were revealed last Friday.
Although it was later confirmed that nearly 80 percent of the documents were made by the previous administration, Park said her allegations will remain intact with the remaining 20 percent confirmed to have been made by the current administration.
Park’s allegation is backed by Jang Jin-soo, a former official at the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) who was indicted for destroying computer hard drives containing related information.
Jang recently divulged that he learned about the unofficial reporting channel in January last year through which “development of a surveillance case was reported directly to the VIP.”
The DUP shows no sign of accepting the ruling party’s proposal to launch an independent counsel, while seeking to have President Lee take the witness stand in a National Assembly inquiry.
Analysts said this reflects the opposition party’s long-running distrust of independent counsel system whose investigation could be biased by political forces. Under Korean law, the President has the final say in selecting a special prosecutor who leads the counsel.
The ruling Saenuri Party is intensifying pressure on Justice Minister Kwon Jae-jin, demanding that he step down to take responsibility for the scandal. Critics claim this is to leave Lee’s leadership undamaged by making Kwon a scapegoat.