The scandal-ridden military intelligence command had floated the idea of leaving the Sewol ferry underwater to address worsening public sentiment over former President Park Geun-hye’s handling of the sinking, investigators said Tuesday.
According to the military probe team investigating the Defense Security Command’s illicit surveillance targeting civilians, the now-defunct unit had suggested to Park that the government stop seeking to recover the ferry that sank off the country’s southwestern island of Jindo on April 16, 2014.
The idea was proposed months after the Sewol sinking to distract the public’s attention away from the tragic sinking incident that had left more than 300 passengers dead or missing, investigators said.
“We have learned that Defense Security Command collected intelligence about family members of the victims to convince them about the need to stop recovering the Sewol ferry and missing people,” said Jeon Ik-soo, head of the investigation team.
|Chief investigator Jeon Ik-soo announces the results of a probe into the military’s alleged wrongdoings related to the Sewol ferry disaster at the Ministry of National Defense on Tuesday. (Yonhap)|
In July, President Moon Jae-in ordered the Ministry of National Defense to conduct a thorough investigation into allegations the Defense Security Command carried out systemic surveillance of the victim’s family members under the order of former President Park.
A special military probe team has indicted four senior uniformed officers, including two general-level ones, for their alleged roles in the illicit surveillance. They have been accused of issuing directives for the purported surveillance.
Investigators found that some DSC officials had posed as victims’ family members to gather private information. Information collected included political leanings, family relationships and drinking habits.
“It is a case in which the DSC illicitly surveilled civilians, including the families of the ferry victims, in an organized manner, under the name of aiding the (president’s) governing authority,” the investigation team said.
|The right side of the Sewol ferry is seen above the water as the wreckage begins to be lifted from the seabed near the nation’s southwestern island of Jindo, Thursday, Mar. 23, 2017. (Yonhap)|
Investigators also revealed that the DSC formed a separate team to support operations to arrest Yoo Byeong-eon, a former chief of Semo Group who was then suspected of being linked to the operator of Sewol.
The Defense Security Command was recently found to have drawn up a secret plan to declare martial law last year when the nation was in turmoil amid massive protests against former President Park.
The scandal-ridden intelligence unit was replaced in September by the Defense Security Support Command amid public criticism. The Defense Security Command was accused of exercising oversized authority over the military, such as through one-on-one briefings to the president.
By Yeo Jun-suk (firstname.lastname@example.org)