The Busan District Court on Friday sentenced a former Coast Guard official to eight months in prison for charges of leaking investigative information on the capsized ferry Sewol.
The 41-year-old ex-Coast Guard official, surnamed Lee, has been suspected of notifying a senior official at the Korean Register of Shipping of the prosecution’s impending raid of the state-commissioned vessel safety inspection entity. The Busan District Prosecutors’ Office was considering dispatching investigators to the KRS without prior notice before the April 16 sinking disaster to seize documents as the entity had reportedly carried out a negligent inspection on the Sewol, which was owned by Chonghaejin Marine Co.
But Lee, who was working for a Busan unit of the Coast Guard at that time, handed over the confidential information to the KRS after speaking with a former investigator at the Busan District Prosecutors’ Office. The court said in its ruling that “the prosecution was putting forth its best efforts to reveal a variety of allegations by trying to secure objective evidence through a raid after the Sewol tragedy distressed the whole country.”
Stressing that the suspect is a civil servant in a law enforcement agency, the verdict said “his practice of promulgating state information cannot be forgiven.”
Meanwhile, the policeman at the prosecutors’ office, who initially leaked the information to the Coast Guard official, averted imprisonment. He was sentenced to six months probation.
The court said it downplayed the possibility that the policeman had colluded with the Coast Guard official to leak the info. It added that the policeman was exploited as a co-suspect after telling the guard official the confidential information in a casual conversation.
According to a probe result from the Board of Audit and Inspection, KRS had failed to detect that the sunken ferry was overloaded and its cargo was not properly secured before it set sail.
By Kim Yon-se (firstname.lastname@example.org)