[Newsmaker] Controversy brews over meeting of NIS chief, Moon's confidant

By Kim Bo-gyung
  • Published : May 28, 2019 - 17:10
  • Updated : May 28, 2019 - 17:22

A dinner meeting between National Intelligence Service Director Suh Hoon and Yang Jung-chul, the head of a think tank run by the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, has stirred up controversy over the spy agency’s involvement in politics.

The four-hour meeting between the two prominent figures last week took the spotlight Tuesday, with the main opposition Liberty Korea Party visiting the spy agency in protest.

“It was not a private consultation, but a dinner with longtime acquaintances. It was a private get-together, so it was not a place for conversations on sensitive topics nor was there one,” Yang Jung-chul said in a text message sent to reporters.

Yang and Suh served key posts in then-presidential candidate Moon Jae-in’s camp in 2017.

Yang Jung-chul, the head of the Institute for Democracy, is surrounded by reporters after a meeting at the National Assembly on Monday morning. (Yonhap)

Despite Yang’s explanation, the meeting has sparked controversy due to the case of ex-National Intelligence Service Director Won Sei-hoon meddling in politics and the 2012 election. The timing is also sensitive, with the general election less than a year away.

Yang, a confidant of President Moon, was tapped as the head of the Institute for Democracy last month to put together the Democratic Party’s strategy for the upcoming general election slated for April 2020. He had served as press secretary in late President Roh Moo-hyun’s administration.

In an interview with a local newspaper last year, Yang referred to himself as a “double-edged sword” for Moon, saying, “If I am around the president, he may feel comforted or less lonely. On the other hand, it may disrupt the system.”

“Yang Jung-chul, who is a key pro-Moon figure, has remained out of politics for the past two years, so his return has drawn significant attention. They (Yang and Suh Hoon) could have met for a private dinner, but given their status, they should have been more careful not to spark suspicions,” said Park Sang-byung, a political commentator.

The Liberty Korea Party has honed in on the meeting, as it plans to take legal action against NIS Director Suh Hoon for allegedly violating the National Intelligence Service Act that bans the agency’s political involvement.

“Even if it were a private meeting, it was inappropriate, given the situation. It is not an issue to be overlooked,” said Liberty Korea Party Chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn.

By Kim Bo-gyung (