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Controversies surrounding Sewol rekindled

Controversy surrounding the 2014 ferry disaster is being rekindled as the prosecution readies to launch a fresh investigation into related allegations brought against the previous Park Geun-hye administration.

On Thursday, the presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae revealed that documents indicating that the Park Geun-hye administration’s presidential aides altered documents concerning former President Park Geun-hye’s actions on April 16, 2014, when the ferry sank, killing more than 300 people. 

The ruling Democratic Party of Korea’s floor leader Rep. Woo Won-shik (right) speaks at a meeting on the 2014 Sewol ferry disaster at the National Assembly on Sunday. Yonhap
The ruling Democratic Party of Korea’s floor leader Rep. Woo Won-shik (right) speaks at a meeting on the 2014 Sewol ferry disaster at the National Assembly on Sunday. Yonhap

According to President Moon Jae-in’s Chief of Staff Im Jong-seok, the time at which Park was first briefed on the accident was altered to 10 a.m., from the initially recorded 9:30 a.m., about six months after the accident. Im also revealed that then-National Security Council chief Kim Kwan-jin ordered for the government’s crisis response manual to be altered without following proper legal procedures.

Following the revelation, Cheong Wa Dae on Friday requested a formal investigation by the prosecutors’ office.

In addition, civic groups concerned with the Sewol accident took to the streets on Saturday to call for the committee investigating the accident to be relaunched.

”The officials of the Park Geun-hye administration must take legal responsibility for bearing false witness at the National Assembly and the courts,“ Rep. Woo Won-shik, floor leader of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, said at a meeting with families of those who died in the disaster on Sunday.

”A complete reinvestigation into former President Park at the time of the accident is unavoidable. (The party) will use all possible means to reveal the truth.“

The main opposition Liberty Korea Party, in contrast, attacked the administration of attempting to interfere with the ongoing parliamentary audit of the government.

The party branded the revelation as an attempt to manipulate the media to divert the public attention from the parliamentary audit. “The (presidential) chief of staff announced that Sewol-related documents have been found, while the Education Ministry’s press release raises questions on the opinion polls on state-authored textbooks at a time when the first parliamentary audit of the new administration is underway,” Rep. Jun Hee-kyung said.

She added that such developments were an unprecedented attempt at keeping the public from being informed about the parliamentary audit.

“The illegality of the Moon Jae-in administration’s political revenge being carried out under the name of addressing accumulated wrongs will be laid bare through the parliamentary audit.”

The current administration has focused on addressing irregularities found in society, the political arena and government organization as one of its main agendas. While the administration maintains that related efforts are part of building a more transparent society, the opposition bloc has accused the president of taking revenge against the conservatives.

The ruling Democratic Party of Korea hit back accusing the main opposition of wanting to keep the truth hidden.

“The Liberty Korea Party hinders (operations of) the National Assembly whenever the topic of Sewol and state-authored (history) textbooks are raised,” Democratic Party floor spokesperson Rep. Je Youn-kyung said in a statement on Sunday. The previous administration had planned to introduce state-authored history textbooks, which progressives claim contained biased views.

“It is questionable how much (the Liberty Korea Party) fears the truth that it refuses (to conduct) the parliamentary audit.”