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[Newsmaker] Arrest warrant denied for ex-energy minister on nuclear reactor closure

Former Energy Minister Paik Un-gyu walks out of a correctional facility in Daejeon after an arrest warrant request made against him was denied Tuesday morning. (Yonhap)
Former Energy Minister Paik Un-gyu walks out of a correctional facility in Daejeon after an arrest warrant request made against him was denied Tuesday morning. (Yonhap)
A local court on Tuesday rejected an arrest warrant for former Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy Paik Un-gyu for his role in the controversial closure of South Korea’s second-oldest nuclear reactor.

The Daejeon District Court on Tuesday denied the prosecution’s request for an arrest warrant made Thursday against Paik on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of business.

The court said the prosecution’s arguments are insufficient to prove Paik’s criminal involvement, adding that the former minister should be provided a chance to defend himself in upcoming proceedings without being detained, as he would not have much chance to destroy evidence.

Paik has been under investigation for allegedly abusing his authority to negatively influence the viability assessment of Wolsong-1 in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province. The government decided in December 2019 to permanently close the 679-megawatt reactor.

The Board of Audit and Inspection found in October last year that the nuclear reactor’s economic viability was grossly undervalued to support the early closure. The watchdog said it believed Paik had played a major role in causing the assessment to be mishandled.

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 former energy minister is also suspected to have taken part in deleting documents related to the reactor to disrupt the state audit. Two of the three ministry officials involved in the case were arrested in December.

Paik’s defense reportedly denied most of the charges, adding that he had not known of the three officials’ involvement in deleting official documents.

The former minister told reporters before the arrest warrant hearing that he had carried out all his duties in regards to the nuclear reactor in accordance with the law. He emphasized that people’s safety had been the priority in the decision to close it down.

As Paik avoided being arrested, the prosecution is expected to face hurdles in broadening the scope of its investigation to encompass higher-ranking officials, including close aides of the Moon Jae-in administration at the Blue House.

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