[Editorial] Key question remains: Did prosecutors meddle?

Posted on : 2021-09-14 17:59 KST Modified on : 2021-09-14 17:59 KST
While there is room to scrutinize the NIS director’s conduct, whether prosecutors took part in partisan affairs is the question we need answered
Rep. Kweon Seong-dong of the People Power Party questions Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum about whether Cho Seong-eun — the former vice chairperson of the United Future Party’s election committee who raised allegations of criminal complaint incitements — and National Intelligence Service Director Park Jie-won met, at a plenary session of the National Assembly during an interpolation session on political issues. (pool photo)
Rep. Kweon Seong-dong of the People Power Party questions Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum about whether Cho Seong-eun — the former vice chairperson of the United Future Party’s election committee who raised allegations of criminal complaint incitements — and National Intelligence Service Director Park Jie-won met, at a plenary session of the National Assembly during an interpolation session on political issues. (pool photo)

The People Power Party (PPP) is desperately trying to apply an “opposition plot” frame to allegations that the prosecutors attempted to incite a particular party to submit criminal complaints against pro-Democratic Party figures ahead of last year’s general election.

Since the allegations first surfaced, the PPP and its leading presidential contender, former Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl, had been trying to turn the tide by framing the allegations as “political maneuvering” by the Democratic Party.

After it came to light that whistleblower Cho Seong-eun — a former election committee vice chairperson for the United Future Party (UFP), the PPP’s previous incarnation — dined last month with National Intelligence Service (NIS) Director Park Jie-won, they ramped up their counteroffensive, claiming that the reporting of the allegations was itself a “plot” by the two of them.

On Sunday, Cho said in an interview with SBS that Sept. 2, the date when Newsverse first reported on the allegations, was “not the date that [Park] and I wanted.” As that footage made the rounds on YouTube, the situation took on the name “Park Jie-won-gate.”

Their claim is that a current NIS chief mobilized a young politician and online media in a media “operation” aimed at bringing down a strong presidential contender from the opposition party.

The fact that the whistleblower met one-on-one with the NIS director before the allegations were reported in the press is not something we should take lightly. During his time in the National Assembly, Park was known by the nickname “political black belt.” If he did in fact have a meal separately with the whistleblower without anyone else present, we can’t rule out the possibility that she may have sought some kind of advice concerning the allegations.

In a Facebook post Monday, Cho called the accusations against her and Park “ridiculously contrived.”

“I did not consider the details concerning Yoon as something to ‘discuss’ with Park Jie-won, and the report a month later on Sept. 2 was like an accident that I could never have predicted the day before,” she wrote.

In a telephone interview with the Hankyoreh on Monday, Park said, “I’m not an idiot. We never had that kind of conversation.”

If there are still questions to be raised after these clarifications, Park should appear himself before the National Assembly’s Intelligence Committee to explain the details — or comply fully with an investigation, if it comes to that.

But regardless of what Park and Cho did talk about, it doesn’t change the fact that at its core, this case is about whether the prosecutors incited the complaints.

From the facts that have come to light so far, it was in early April 2020 that PPP lawmaker Kim Woong received Telegram messages containing draft complaints against opposition party figures and a court ruling concerning someone surnamed Ji, which he passed along to Cho and others.

The documents are alleged to have come from a prosecutor — believed to be Son Jun-seong, a Supreme Prosecutors’ Office (SPO) investigation intelligence policy officer — at a time when Kim was a candidate for the general election in April 2020.

Cho kept her copy for over a year before disclosing it to a Newsverse reporter on July 21 of this year. That means it was a separate issue that happened before the meeting between her and Park — something Yoon’s election camp and the PPP leadership know full well.

It’s time for them to stop trying to paper over the nature of the allegations with their own accusations over incidental matters. Instead, they ought to be cooperating actively with the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials (CIO) investigation and the SPO questioning to get to the bottom of things.

In that sense, the PPP did the sensible thing being relatively compliant with the CIO’s execution of a search and seizure warrant on Kim Woong’s office Monday, after physically blocking a previous attempt on Friday.

Park Jie-won’s conduct should also be scrutinized. As head of the NIS, he is strictly barred from involvement in domestic politics, and when he meets and dines frequently with political and media figures he knows from his politician days, people are inevitably going to view that as inappropriate. He will need to be more circumspect with his words and actions.

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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