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Criminal investigations vs ex-Moon officials intensify

Democratic Party of Korea accuses Yoon administration of ‘political vengeance’

In this photograph released by the Ministry of Unification, North Korean fishermen are seen being dragged by officials to be handed over to North Korea via the Military Demarcation Line.
In this photograph released by the Ministry of Unification, North Korean fishermen are seen being dragged by officials to be handed over to North Korea via the Military Demarcation Line.

Criminal investigations involving former President Moon Jae-in’s aides are speeding up, with just a few weeks left until the country’s prosecutors lose their power to investigate most crimes under laws passed by the Democratic Party of Korea.

Some of the key cases under investigation include the 2020 killing of a South Korean Fisheries Ministry worker by North Korean soldiers at sea, the 2019 deportation of two North Korean fishermen and the 2018 shutdown of the Wolsong nuclear power plant.

For the nearly two dozen officials from the Moon administration who are being investigated in connection to the three cases, this past month has meant a series of searches and summons.

In one such latest development, Seoul prosecutors on Monday searched the Presidential Archives in the investigation into the case of two North Korean fishermen who were returned to North Korea through the border village of Panmunjom in November 2019.

Prosecutors suspect a large chunk of documents and other materials on the case may have been transferred there to keep them classified. Earlier in July, an aide with President Yoon Suk-yeol’s office told reporters that the Cheong Wa Dae national security office “has virtually no related records left,” suggesting they could be stored elsewhere.

Last week, prosecutors in Seoul searched the homes and offices of Suh Hoon and Park Jie-won, both of whom served as chiefs of the spy agency during the Moon administration, and Seo Wook, who was Moon’s national defense minister.

Suh is accused of dropping investigations into the North Korea deportation case and Park of deleting records suggesting the murdered fisheries official had no intentions of defecting to the North. Seo faces the accusation that he tried to cover up intelligence related to the fisheries official’s murder.

Daejeon prosecutors searched the Presidential Archives on Friday in the Wolsong nuclear power investigation, which actually began long before the launch of the Yoon administration.

After the state operator of the country’s nuclear and hydroelectric plants arbitrarily decided to close Wolsong in June 2018, several reports were filed with law enforcement over the years. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in 2019 agreed on an audit of the process leading to the plant’s closure.

The Democratic Party has labeled the investigations that have been broadening over the last few months “political vengeance.”

Rep. Woo Sang-ho, the main opposition’s interim chair, said the current administration was “trying to humiliate the last administration by targeting former Moon officials.” “This administration is only invested in waging a political vendetta,” he said.

In response, the party’s Rep. Kim Hoe-jae on Monday proposed a bill limiting the scope of audit that can be carried out by state auditors, saying that under Yoon the Audit Board was “targeting former top Moon officials.”

On the criticism from the Democratic Party, Yoon said in response to a reporter question on June 17, “Criminal investigations would of course go after past events. Naturally, some can take off after a new administration is in office.”

Yoon, who served as Moon’s prosecutor general before stepping down in March last year, said that criminal investigations into past administrations “also happened under Democratic Party presidents.”

The archives of Park Geun-hye, who was president before Moon, were searched in 2017 in investigations led by none other than Yoon himself and Han Dong-hoon. Han, who as a senior prosecutor built a career of investigating the political and corporate elite, became the new administration’s first justice minister in May.

On more than one occasion Yoon has stressed that his administration would get to the bottom of the three cases in particular.

In the Aug. 17 address marking 100 days as president, Yoon said his administration was “doing the utmost to uncover the truth behind the official’s killing at sea and the forced repatriation of North Korean fishermen, and restore the honor of the victims.”

In the same address, Yoon said Moon’s policy to phase out nuclear power was “driven by political ideology,” and that his own administration would commit to bringing nuclear plants back to life and innovating nuclear energy.

But the prosecutors are working with a tight timeline. The laws restricting the prosecution service’s investigative authority are due to come into effect on Sept. 10. It’s unclear whether the ongoing investigations would be completed by then to end in convictions of the Moon officials.

By Kim Arin (