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[Newsmaker] Court mulls arrest warrants for 3 Industry Ministry officials over closure of Wolsong-1 reactor

The front of a courtroom inside the Daejeon District Court where a hearing is held Friday on arrest warrant requests for three high-ranking Energy Ministry officials. (Yonhap)
The front of a courtroom inside the Daejeon District Court where a hearing is held Friday on arrest warrant requests for three high-ranking Energy Ministry officials. (Yonhap)
A local court on Friday began reviewing whether to issue arrest warrants for three high-ranking Energy Ministry officials suspected of destroying documents about the controversial closure of the Wolsong-1 nuclear reactor.

The Daejeon District Court on Friday afternoon started an arrest warrant hearing for the three officials from the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy. This followed a request from the Daejeon District Prosecutors’ Office on Wednesday.

The officials are under investigation for possibly destroying 444 files and other materials related to the government’s decision to terminate the operation of the nuclear reactor, just before receiving an order to submit them from the Board of Audit and Inspection late last year.

Of the deleted files, 324 were recovered through digital forensic efforts, but 120 could not be recovered.

Wolsong-1, the second-oldest nuclear reactor in South Korea, was retired from operation in December last year in what was billed as a milestone in President Moon Jae-in’s anti-nuclear initiative.

But debate continued about Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power’s decision to shut down the reactor earlier than scheduled, with nuclear proponents suspecting a political push may have hampered a fair, comprehensive review.

The debate triggered a comprehensive review from the Board of Audit and Inspection that lasted until October.

KHNP cited deteriorating economic viability as its reason for the early closure at a board meeting in June 2018, a reversal from its earlier estimate that Wolsong-1 could provide additional economic benefits worth nearly 4 trillion won ($3.7 billion) if it continued running.

A prosecutorial investigation followed after BAI chief Choe Jae-hyeong told lawmakers that some public officials had “severely resisted” the audit and had caused delays by destroying evidence and giving false testimony.

The disruptions caused the BAI to submit its final report nearly eight months later than the original deadline of Feb. 29.

The prosecution is expected to broaden the scope of its investigation to encompass top government officials who directed anti-nuclear initiatives, including former Energy Minister Paik Un-gyu and Korea Gas Corporation CEO Chae Hee-bong.

Investigators last month raided the Industry Ministry in Sejong, the Korea Gas Corporation in Daegu and KHNP in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province, to secure related documents and digital files.

By Ko Jun-tae (ko.juntae@heraldcorp.com)
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