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Prosecutors reopen probe of 2010 illegal surveillance case

The prosecution has begun reinvestigating illegal surveillance allegations first made in 2010, after a recent claim of Cheong Wa Dae involvement by the accused.

Prosecutors said Friday that they had set up a special investigative team to probe the politically sensitive case, which could influence the outcome of the April 11 general elections.

Prosecutors said that on Tuesday they would call in on Jang Jin-su, former official of a bureau under the Prime Minister’s Office, which was under fire in 2010 for illegally monitoring a businessman critical of President Lee Myung-bak.

Jang who belonged to the bureau in charge of inspecting public servants over ethics-code violations recently claimed that the presidential office ordered his office to destroy evidence of its illicit monitoring of a civilian in July 2010, a couple of days before the prosecution searched the Prime Minister’s Office.

Earlier this week, Jang also claimed that Lee Young-ho, former presidential secretary for employment and labor issues, attempted to offer him 20 million won ($17,787) last year in an apparent move to cover up Cheong Wa Dae’s involvement.

“We have told him to appear for questioning as we judged that his claim, should it be true, could offer a clue for our investigation into the case,” a prosecutorial official told reporters.

“As public interest in the case is high, we will make efforts to verify the allegations.”

The scandal erupted in 2010 after Kim Jong-ik, a businessman, claimed that the Prime Minister’s Office illegally monitored him.

Kim posted a 25 minute video in June 2008 on his blog criticizing President Lee Myung-bak and his policies. He was a member of a group supportive of former President Roh Moo-hyun, many of whose policies have been shunned by Lee.

Opposition parties and Lee’s political foes suspected that spying on civilians was carried out under the direction of the presidential office to stymie any attempts to impede Lee’s presidency.

The case was brought back into the spotlight after Jang claimed that the presidential office had sought to interfere.

The appellate court gave him a suspended eight-month jail term last year for destroying evidence.

After their 2010 investigation into the scandal, prosecutors indicted seven officials including Lee In-kyu, head of the public ethics division at the PMO, and three of his staff received prison terms for illegal surveillance.

Three others were convicted of destroying evidence and also got jail terms. They have appealed and are now awaiting decisions by the Supreme Court.

The opposition politicians equated the case to the Watergate scandal in 1970s that ousted U.S. President Richard Nixon, saying the party will push for a probe by an independent counsel, if the prosecution does not move.

By Song Sang-ho (