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Prosecutors raid Blue House in power abuse scandal probe

Prosecutors’ investigation into an alleged power abuse scandal involving Cheong Wa Dae intensified Wednesday as prosecutors -- for the third time in the current administration -- raided the presidential office to secure records related to the controversial suspension of an internal inspection of a senior official in late 2017. 

Cheong Wa Dae (Yonhap)
Cheong Wa Dae (Yonhap)

The senior official, former Busan Vice Mayor for Economic Affairs Yoo Jae-soo, was detained Nov. 27 on bribery charges.

Prosecutors were handed over documents identified in the warrant as per the usual custom. According to South Korea’s criminal procedure code, approval is required from the presidential office before any raid is carried out at its premises, as it contains military secrets.

On Monday, prosecutors raided the Seocho Police Station, to look into the death of an investigator found dead Sunday amid another power abuse controversy in which the Blue House is under suspicion of having instigated an investigation into Mayor Kim Gi-hyeon to influence the 2018 Ulsan mayoral election. A close friend of President Moon Jae-in won the election.

The presidential office denies involvement in both suspicions.

“The inspection team ‘didn’t come up with charges’ on its own to prompt a police investigation,” Cheong Wa Dae spokesperson Ko Min-jung said Wednesday.

According to Ko, upon being notified of the corruption allegations involving Mayor Kim’s associates, the inspection team sent the intelligence to police. Prosecutors, however, suspect the investigation team may have manipulated the intel to Kim’s disadvantage.

The presidential office has also shown unease with the ongoing investigations by the prosecution. It is of the view that the prosecutors are feeding local media outlets the latest developments in the investigations to sway public opinion in their favor.

“May I bring it to the attention of the prosecutors that disclosing the details of an ongoing investigation is no longer sanctioned under the new regulations.” the Cheong Wa Dae spokesperson said Tuesday at a press briefing.

Police are also at odds with prosecutors.

They have taken issue with how the prosecutors suddenly raided the Seocho Police Station to seize a deceased investigator’s cellphone, among other belongings, to look for ties between the presidential office and the alleged election meddling.

The former investigator, alleged to be on the extralegal team at the Blue House at the time, was found dead at an office in Seocho-gu, Seoul. Seocho Police Station took the man’s belongings as part of its investigation into his death.

The usual protocol is for the police to investigate a crime before handing over the case to prosecutors. Observers generally agree that bypassing the protocol is highly unusual.

Police suspect that prosecutors swooped in to secure evidence that they did not want police to examine.

Police asked the prosecutors whether they could take part in the forensic examination of the dead investigator’s cell phone. Prosecutors agreed but refused to share the results with police.

Police are reportedly preparing to ask the court for a warrant to seize the phone from the prosecutors. But that remains unlikely, as police have to ask prosecutors to file a warrant request with the court.

Prosecutors maintain that they had to conduct the raid on a short notice as it concerned a sensitive issue.

“Let us not defame the deceased investigator with conjectures and preposterous tales,” Cheong Wa Dae spokesperson Ko Min-jung told reporters Wednesday. “We send our deepest condolences to his families.”

By Choi Si-young (