Rival parties call for different approaches to surveillance scandal
Rival parties reacted differently Sunday to a presidential office claim that illegal surveillance of public officials and civilians was more widespread during the preceding government.
Cheong Wa Dae, the presidential office, said Saturday that more than 80 percent of 2,619 alleged illegal surveillance cases raised recently by unionists at public broadcaster KBS occurred during the presidency of Roh Moo-hyun, the late predecessor of President Lee Myung-bak.
Last week, a KBS labor union disclosed they had thousands of government reports obtained by extensive spying on civilians and public servants, prompting the main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP) to call on Lee to consider resigning and to dismiss those Cabinet ministers and secretaries responsible.
Apparently mindful of the scandal's explosive impact on the April 11 parliamentary elections, the ruling and opposition parties both called for a special investigation but differed on how it should be done.
On Sunday, the ruling Saenuri Party repeated its proposal for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate the government's alleged surveillance of officials and civilians, calling for efforts to eliminate wrongful practices of the past.
The DUP dismissed the special counsel proposal, however, saying it was a foot-dragging ploy from the ruling camp. The opposition party called instead for the dismissal of Justice Minister Kwon Jae-jin and the immediate formation of a special investigative team, in addition to a parliamentary inspection and hearings on the scandal.
While campaigning for ruling party candidates in Busan, Saenuri's interim leader and leading presidential aspirant Park Geun-hye said now is the time to put an end to illegal civilian surveillance and other old practices.
"It has been revealed that more than 80 percent of the surveillance reports disclosed (by the KBS labor union) were compiled by the previous government. This has proven that all administrations are not free from allegations of illegal surveillance," said Park.
DUP chairwoman Han Myeong-sook, who served as prime minister during the Roh presidency, also called a news conference in Seoul and demanded a set of extraordinary measures to uncover the truth behind the allegations.
"The government's rampant spying on individuals can barely be imagined in a democratic society. The ruling party should not politically use its proposal for a special counsel investigation," Han said.
According to the opposition party and KBS unionists, the documents showed that a team at the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), which is tasked with ensuring public officials are not involved in corruption, recklessly collected information on not only government officials, but also civilians considered critical of the government. These included labor union leaders and reporters at media firms considered unfriendly to the government.
The PMO dismissed the disclosed documents as nothing new, saying they were part of evidence prosecutors seized, reviewed and turned in to the court when they first investigated the case in 2010. The office said in a statement the ethics team has since changed its name and undergone a thorough overhaul, and that the reformed team has been carrying out its mission strictly according to the law.
In a media briefing Sunday, Minister of the PMO Yim Jong-ryong urged rival parties to refrain from any attempt to use or misrepresent the allegations for political purposes, saying prosectors are expected to conduct a thorough investigation of the matter.
"Over 80 percent of the surveillance documents in question were compiled by the Participatory Government (of President Roh Moo-hyun). The motivation and whereabouts of responsibility have yet to be clarified," said Yim.
"Under such circumstances, those allegations should not be politically used or distorted."
The new revelations, however, added to an already snowballing scandal surrounding the government's illegal surveillance of a businessman critical of President Lee and the presidential office's alleged attempt to cover that up.
Earlier this month, prosecutors reopened an investigation into the surveillance scandal after one of the officials involved claimed the presidential office attempted to cover up the illegal operation.
In a related development, Lee Young-ho, who formerly served as a labor affair secretary for President Lee, was summoned to the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office on Saturday and underwent about 15 hours of intensive questioning about his involvement in the surveillance of the businessman. (Yonhap)