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Justice minister apologizes for dispute over probe on NIS

Minister of Justice Hwang Kyo-ahn apologized for the controversy surrounding alleged irregularities in the prosecution’s probe into the National Intelligence Service on Thursday, as the row over the issue extended to whether the opposition bloc is was denying the legitimacy of the election.

“(I) apologize to the public for the fact that undesirable developments are taking place within the prosecution,” Hwang said in a statement.

He also said that the prosecution should remain independent of politics and that the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office would conduct a thorough investigation that leaves no unanswered questions.

The probe into the alleged election meddling by the NIS has been mired in controversies of its own over accusations of politically motivated pressure from the top of law enforcement.

According to prosecutor Yoon Seok-yeol, Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office chief Cho Young-gon hampered his investigation and Hwang was likely to have been aware of such developments. The Justice Ministry is also alleged to have pressured the probe team to downscale the investigation.

Yoon had headed the probe until he was reassigned as the chief of the prosecutor’s office for Yeoju, Gyeonggi Province following alleged insubordination.

Hwang’s statement, however, appears to have only riled the main opposition Democratic Party further.

“The very person responsible for shaking the prosecution’s independence and fairness sounds as if he is talking about somebody else’s business,” DP spokesman Rep. Kim Kwan-young said referring to Hwang’s statement regarding the developments.

The DP spokesman also claimed Hwang’s comment that the concerned organizations would do their best to uncover the truth was a ploy to buy time to avoid a crisis.

“For stringent investigation, the resignation of Hwang and Cho, who make up the body behind the pressure, and reinstatement of Yoon must come first.”

The ruling Saenuri Party is also stepping up the offensive, openly accusing the DP’s Rep. Moon Jae-in, who ran against President Park Geun-hye in last year’s election, of contesting the election outcome.

“(Moon) spewed sophistry, but in effect it was that (Moon) could not accept the fact that he lost the race,” said Saenuri Party floor leader Rep. Choi Kyung-hwan.

On Wednesday, Moon called on the president to show her intention to resolve the situation, saying that she benefited from the actions of the NIS and other government bodies accused of election interference.

Choi added that Moon was trying to “cover the eyes and ears of the public” by stating allegations as facts, when the courts had yet to pass judgment on the issue.

“Moon must realize that (his actions) appear only to be maneuvers to avoid taking responsibility over the disappearance of presidential records.”

Along with alleged election meddling by the spy agency, last year’s presidential election birthed a drawn-out fight over the 2007 inter-Korean summit records. At the time ruling party lawmakers accused late President Roh Moo-hyun of conceding the Northern Limit Line in the West Sea to Pyongyang. The transcript of the summit was later shown to be missing from the National Archives, but only existed in the records of the NIS and in an electronic data storage system in Roh’s retirement home.

By Choi He-suk (