Debate over allegations about prosecutors' meddling gets heated during National Assembly interpellation session

Posted on : 2021-09-14 17:31 KST Modified on : 2021-09-14 17:48 KST
During a National Assembly interpellation session, opposition lawmakers argued that the National Intelligence Service’s director was meddling in the election, a claim that some Democratic Party lawmakers have characterized as an attempt at deflecting attention from the allegations against Yoon
Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum partakes in a National Assembly interpellation session on Monday, and can be seen fielding a question from People Power Party lawmaker Kweon Seong-dong. (Yonhap News)
Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum partakes in a National Assembly interpellation session on Monday, and can be seen fielding a question from People Power Party lawmaker Kweon Seong-dong. (Yonhap News)

Allegations that prospective presidential nominee Yoon Seok-youl incited a particular political party to submit criminal complaints with the aim of influencing a general election predictably surfaced as a major topic at a National Assembly interpellation session on political issues that kicked off Monday.

The People Power Party (PPP) said that the allegations were an example of “political maneuvering” by the administration, playing up speculation about possible collusion by National Intelligence Service (NIS) Director Park Jie-won.

The Democratic Party stressed the importance of determining whether the prosecutors actually did interfere with an election, insisting that the key task now is to determine who actually drafted the original complaints.

Kweon Seong-dong, a PPP lawmaker close with Yoon, cited remarks he had heard about Park holding discussions with whistleblower Cho Seong-eun — a former election committee vice chairperson for the United Future Party, the PPP’s previous incarnation — over whether to disclose the incitement allegations to the press.

“A former lawmaker who is very close to Park told me they had ‘heard Cho had sent Park information related to the case before the press reports,’” Kweon said.

He also said he had “heard from a reporter” that the election camp for Democratic Party contender Lee Jae-myung “acquired the information in question with plans to release it once Yoon became the official PPP candidate,” adding that they were “taken aback when [the report] came out so quickly.”

In response, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said he was unaware of such occurrences.

Kweon even suggested that President Moon Jae-in might have been responsible. He called the incitement allegations “a concerted effort by the Democratic Party, the prosecutors, and the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials (CIO) to ‘bring Yoon Seok-youl down.’” He added that Moon should take responsibility if it is determined that Yoon did not incite the complaints against Democratic Party figures.

Others suggested that the CIO should move quickly to investigate Park.

PPP lawmaker Cho Hae-jin said the CIO “investigated Yoon because the press told it to, listing four accusations [including abuse of authority].”

“Yet it has not investigated Park Jie-won, who is suspected of orchestrating the whole thing behind the scenes,” he complained, calling for a forcible investigation of Park.

The Democratic Party waved off speculation about NIS involvement, stressing that the substance of the allegations concerned the prosecutors’ alleged abuse of investigative authority to influence an election.

“If they intended to submit orchestrated complaints ahead of a general election, then that could be seen as election interference by prosecutors,” said Democratic Party lawmaker Min Byoung-dug.

“There is no way the person in command [Yoon] could not have known, and in the off chance that he was unaware, that would also be a scandal that he should be held responsible for,” he added.

Fellow Democratic Party lawmaker Back Hye-ryun said, “This situation — Yoon Seok-youl delivering a complaint document, and the PPP submitting that same document back to the prosecutors — is a real thing that happened in the Republic of Korea in the 21st century.”

“Yoon is trying to deflect attention from this, first by threatening the whistleblower and going on about her ‘history,’ and now with groundless speculation about the ‘NIS director’s involvement,’” she said.

Back also pointed to Cho’s mention of her meeting with Park on her own social media account as evidence against the NIS involvement allegations.

“If you’re ‘plotting,’ it must be done in secret. What kind of fool would share about a meeting with a ‘conspirator’ on social media?” she said.

Kim Boo-kyum and Minister of Justice Park Beom-kye attended the interpellation session to field questions. In their responses, they said they took the incitement allegations very seriously.

Kim said, “I’m wary about talking even in hypotheticals, but if it is true, it would be something unthinkable for a state organization.”

“It would be a serious criminal act of overt political interference by a government employee,” he said.

Park noted the “very special relationship” between Yoon and prosecutor Son Jun-seong.

“The very dignity of the prosecution service hinges [on the incitement allegations],” he said, describing the accusations as a “serious incident that concerns the prosecutors’ obligation to remain politically neutral.”

By Bae Ji-hyun, staff reporter

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