Official records of former President Park Geun-hye will be handed over to the state archive starting mid-April, its official said Tuesday, triggering controversy over a potential destruction of what may be key evidence for an ongoing probe into her criminal charges.
The Presidential Archives within the National Archives of Korea has been considering the timing of the handover, with the country holding an early presidential election on May 9 due to Park’s impeachment. The presidential secretary and security offices as well as affiliated advisory committees are mandated to complete the move before the election.
Under the law, the transfer will make a multitude of data from Park’s term classified for up to 30 years.
“We are looking at around April 20 to start collecting presidential records from the offices within Cheong Wa Dae, but are still in talks with them to fix the schedule,” an official of the Presidential Archives told The Korea Herald.
Cheong Wa Dae (Yonhap)
With the agency beginning preparations for the transfer, debate has erupted over whether acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn is entitled to designate confidential documents.
While the Presidential Archives says Hwang has the right to pick what to move, opposition lawmakers argue he should refrain from exercising it, warning against any attempt to block the prosecution’s access to possible evidence for its ongoing investigation into a corruption scandal involving Park.
The records, including phone call logs of Park and her aides and entry logs of outside personnel, are seen as key.
But the presidential office has repeatedly brushed off raid efforts by the prosecution and a now-defunct independent counsel team, citing military security matters. It instead gave them some of the requested papers.
“It would be an act of destroying evidence if Hwang indiscriminately designates possible evidence as presidential records, which would have helped establish criminal facts, in order to protect Park and Choi Soon-sil,” Rep. Yoon Ho-joong, chief policymaker of the Democratic Party of Korea, said at a party meeting earlier in the day, referring to Park’s old friend who is at the center of the scandal.
“Concerns over a possible destruction of evidence were one of the reasons behind the prosecution’s recent request for an arrest warrant against Park and a substantial amount of evidence is subject to the designation.”
Critics have also raised concerns over a lack of a proper monitoring mechanism to ensure no omission‚ alteration or deletion will occur throughout the process, saying the agency’s role is chiefly confined to collecting and managing the archives.
Earlier this month, the Korean Society of Archival Studies, a research institute, issued a statement that said, “All the presidential records must be sealed and monitored before being transferred to the Archives in order to prevent illegal acts of leaking, destroying and damaging.”
“An act of damaging or destroying presidential records on purpose is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, but in reality, implementing the law is very difficult with lack of monitoring at the state level,” said Nam Kyoung-kook, a law professor at the University of Seoul Law School.
By Bak Se-hwan (firstname.lastname@example.org)