[Newsmaker] Ruling party seeks tighter control over NIS with revisions

By Choi He-suk
  • Published : Nov 20, 2017 - 16:15
  • Updated : Nov 20, 2017 - 16:15
The move to revise related laws to tighten the reins on the National Intelligence Service is gaining traction, with the ruling Democratic Party of Korea set to propose a revision this week.

The revision, which the ruling party says will provide legal grounds for suggestions from the NIS’ own reform committee, calls for tougher control of the agency’s budget and the actions of the president and the NIS chief. 

National Intelligence Service. Yonhap

If approved, the bill would make it mandatory to document all orders given by the president and the NIS chief. The proposed revision also requires the NIS to submit details about its budget, excluding that regarding the agency’s covert operations, to the National Assembly’s Intelligence Committee. The ruling party’s draft also suggests appointing three special auditors, who will be tasked with assessing the NIS’ accounting and monitoring the activities of employees.

The NIS’ budget is at the center of the latest scandal to engulf the spy agency. The agency is allocated hundreds of billions of won each year to cover the costs of covert operations. With the agency having no obligation to disclose the details of its execution, it has been alleged that the NIS had misused the budget to fund illegal political campaigns and that large sums were given to presidential aides.

The ruling party also suggests changing the name of the agency, as suggested by the reform committee, and adding clauses aimed at preventing illegal wiretapping.

The revision would also introduce tougher penalties for NIS agents who violate related regulations. 

Journalists flock to the office of Rep. Choi Kyung-hwan inside the national Assembly in Seoul on Monday, as it is raided by prosecutors and investigators for suspcions the opposition Liberty Korea Party lawmaker received bribes worth 100 million won ($91,000) from the National Intelligence Service during his stint as finance minister from 2014-2016 (Yonhap)

Violations such as disclosing secrets, abuse of power, illegal wiretapping and meddling in politics will result in three or more years of imprisonment. Under the current regulations, interfering in politics and abuse of power are punishable with no more than seven-year sentences.

In addition, the statute of limitations will not be applied to charges of interfering in politics and illegal wiretapping, according to the Democratic Party’s draft.

The suggested revisions come in the wake of an expanding probe into allegations that large sums from the NIS’ covert operations budget were handed to presidential aides and politicians during the Park Geun-hye administration.

The investigation has led to the arrest of two of three NIS chiefs under the Park administration -- Nam Jae-joon and Lee Byung-kee. An arrest warrant for Lee Byung-ho was rejected.

At his warrant hearing Thursday, Lee byung-ho told the court that he was following Park’s direct instructions in making the monthly delivery of cash to presidential aides.

In addition, investigators on Monday raided the home and office of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party’s Rep. Choi Kyung-hwan in connection with the case. Choi, a close ally of Park, is suspected of receiving 100 million won ($90,800) from the NIS in 2014 while he was finance minister.

By Choi He-suk (