The political row surrounding the prosecution chief’s abrupt resignation intensified Monday as the opposition raised fresh allegations that he was stepping down due to pressure from the presidential office.
Rep. Park Jie-won of the main opposition Democratic Party claimed that Cheong Wa Dae’s civil affairs team in August spied on Prosecutor General Chae Dong-wook, looking into rumors that he fathered a son out of wedlock, in collaboration with senior officials from the National Intelligence Service and the prosecution.
Cheong Wa Dae immediately denied the claim, saying it had begun an inspection on Chae only after the report of him was published by a conservative daily on Sept. 6.
|(left) Prosecutor General Chae Dong-wook (Yonhap News)|
(right) Justice Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)
Chae offered to step down last Friday but President Park Geun-hye has yet to accept his resignation.
During three-way talks with the two main parties Monday afternoon, President Park said she would not accept Chae’s resignation until the authorities verify the truth of the allegations of him.
The Justice Ministry is currently conducting an internal inspection of Chae amid heated controversy over its political intentions.
“The inspection will be carried out as planned to reveal the truth,” a Justice Ministry official said Monday morning. The ministry also denied the allegations that the minister’s order for an inspection was intended to pressure Chae to resign.
President Park also backed the justice minister, saying he had done what he was supposed to do, the opposition party said after the three-way talks.
At a meeting of the parliamentary legislative and judiciary committee, Rep. Park claimed that Kwak Sang-do, former senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, colluded with the second deputy chief of the NIS to spy on Chae.
Kwak, who stepped down from his post for controversial appointments, handed over the secret file on the top prosecutor to Lee Joong-hee, secretary for civil affairs, so that he could continue the surveillance, according to the opposition lawmaker.
Lee then shared the secret files with Kim Kwang-soo, director of the second public security division at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, Rep. Park said, adding that the presidential aide told the prosecutor that Chae would be kicked out.
Rep. Park also claimed that the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office ordered an internal investigation of Kim after it discovered that the prosecutor had frequent phone calls with the presidential secretary.
“The SPO found out that Lee and Kim had frequent phone conversations a day before the Chosun Ilbo published the report on Chae on Sept. 6,” Rep. Park said. “SPO is said to have ordered an internal investigation (into Kim),” he added.
Tension escalated further among Cheong Wa Dae, political parties and the prosecution after some reports said that Chae had ordered an inspection into Kim, who is suspected of collaborating with the surveillance. Chae’s move was viewed as retaliation. However, Chae said through an SPO spokesman, that he did not give such an order.
“(Chae) made a phone call personally to Kil Tae-ki, deputy prosecutor general, and said he didn’t order (the SPO’s inspection division) to launch an investigation into Kim,” spokesman Koo Bon-sun said.
Chae was officially on annual leave Monday as his resignation remains pending at Cheong Wa Dae. The embattled prosecution chief was widely speculated that he would not appear in the office throughout the week with the three-day Chuseok holiday to begin Wednesday.
Chae offered to resign Friday shortly after Justice Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn ordered an unprecedented internal investigation of him over the controversial report by the Chosun Ilbo.
The Chosun Ilbo, the nation’s largest daily, published a series of articles claiming that the prosecution chief, who is married, fathered a son in 2002 with a woman he met in 1999.
The prosecutor general continued to deny the claim, but said he might not be able to carry out his duties amid the scandal upon offering to resign.
It was the first time a justice minister had ordered an investigation into the country’s top prosecutor over a personal scandal.
The main opposition Democratic Party suspects that Cheong Wa Dae and the National Intelligence Service may be pulling the strings behind the scenes.
By Cho Chung-un (email@example.com