NATIONAL

[Newsmaker] Park’s key aide Woo grilled over NIS scandal

By Kim Da-sol
  • Published : Nov 29, 2017 - 15:54
  • Updated : Nov 29, 2017 - 17:49
Prosecutors on Wednesday summoned Woo Byung-woo, one of ex-President Park Geun-hye’s close aides, over his possible involvement in the national spy agency’s alleged illegal spying on civilians under the Park administration. 

Woo Byung-woo is surrounded by reporters as he stands in front of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office on Wednesday. Yonhap

Woo, who served as senior presidential secretary for judicial affairs from 2015-2016, is suspected to have exerted influence on the National Intelligence Service to conduct surveillance on dissidents. 

It is his fourth time facing interrogation by the prosecution since late last year, when a massive influence-peddling scandal surrounding the former president surfaced, leading to her eventual removal from office. 

“It’s my fourth time standing here over the past year,” he told reporters as he appeared at around 10 a.m. in front of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office. “If it’s my fate, I take it.”

The prosecution said the interrogation would mainly focus on allegations surrounding the covert NIS operations and possible charges of abuse of power and violation of the law.

Prosecutors sought an arrest warrant for Woo in February and April this year. But both were rejected by the court due to insufficient grounds.

According to prosecutors, Woo rejected accusations he was involved in any illegal activities of the NIS, including alleged spying on civilians and the blacklisting of artists, during the interrogation. He reportedly said he did have phone conservations with NIS officials at the time, but they were strictly routine business calls.

Woo is accused of ordering the spy agency to surveil civilians and influential public officials including the presidential office’s internal inspector Lee Seok-su. 

He is also suspected to have played a role in instructing the NIS and the Culture Ministry to create a blacklist of artists and celebrities considered critical of Park and her policies. 

In addition, he is accused of exerting power to delay a prosecutorial investigation to determine the cause of the deadly sinking of the ferry Sewol in 2014, in order for public sentiment to become favorable to the Park administration. 

Woo, a former state prosecutor, is the only major figure who has avoided arrest among those implicated in the corruption scandal involving Park. He has denied any wrongdoing. 

The Korean media sarcastically describes him as the “emperor” for his strong grip on Korea’s most powerful organizations -- the prosecution and the NIS -- as well as his arrogant attitude in front of the camera. 

By Kim Da-sol (ddd@heraldcorp.com)