Yoon taps prosecutor sued for framing N. Korean defector as spy to oversee discipline of public officials

Posted on : 2022-05-06 18:27 KST Modified on : 2022-05-06 18:27 KST
Yoon’s choice of Lee Si-won for the post has shocked many even within the prosecution service
Yoo Ga-ryeo, the younger sister of Yoo Woo-seong, who was falsely accused of being a North Korean spy, speaks to Newstapa. The subtitles read:
Yoo Ga-ryeo, the younger sister of Yoo Woo-seong, who was falsely accused of being a North Korean spy, speaks to Newstapa. The subtitles read: "I hope in the future that no other families get wrongly exploited like ours did." (screen capture from Newstapa)

Lee Si-won, a former prosecutor who was in charge of the investigation that manipulated evidence in order to accuse a Seoul public servant of being a North Korean spy, has been appointed to serve as Yoon’s secretary for public office discipline. Because Lee was sued for false accusation and fabrication — charges he evaded thanks to the prosecution service’s half-hearted investigation — critics are saying Lee is unfit to serve in the role, as his appointment to a core position in charge of internal inspections would run counter to the values of fairness and common sense Yoon purportedly stands for.

In 2013, the first public security department of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office arrested and charged Yoo Woo-sung for espionage. The case made headlines at the time and was commonly known as the “Seoul city civil servant espionage incident.” A North Korean defector, Yoo was accused of gaining employment with the Seoul city government and handing a list of 200 North Korean defectors to Pyongyang. Lee, Yoon’s nominee for presidential secretary for public office discipline, was the prosecutor in charge of the case.

But during the trial, it was revealed that the investigation against Yoo was based on trumped-up allegations. The supporting evidence for Yoo’s espionage charge was a statement Yoo’s sister Yoo Ga-ryeo had made at the Joint Interrogation Center of the National Intelligence Service (NIS). During Yoo Woo-sung’s trial, Yoo Ga-ryeo testified that she had no choice but to make false statements regarding her brother due to threats and cruel treatment by the NIS.

When the initial trial declared Yoo Woo-sung not guilty, Lee submitted Yoo’s entry record purportedly issued by the Chinese public security authority to the appellate court, insisting that Yoo was indeed a North Korean spy. The document, however, was revealed to be a forgery.

When the “espionage fabrication” case was brought to light, the prosecution service conducted an independent fact-finding investigation. As a result, Lee was given a slap on the wrist of a one-month suspension, after which he went into early retirement in July 2018.

Only during the Moon Jae-in administration did the committee under the Justice Ministry in charge of investigating the past affairs of the prosecution service confirm who was responsible for the manipulation of the case.

In February 2019, the committee concluded that Lee and others colluded with a NIS employee to keep Yoo Ga-ryeo in illegal detention and prevent her from receiving legal counsel; concealed evidence and witness statements that proved that Yoo Woo-sung had not been in North Korea at the time the prosecution service argued he was; and submitted written opinions and Yoo’s entry records between China and North Korea that were falsified as evidence to the court. The committee recommended that then-Prosecutor General Moon Moo-il issue an apology after coming to the conclusion that Lee knew the case had been engineered but intentionally neglected to rectify the situation.

Based on the committee’s findings, Yoo Woo-sung sued Lee for false accusation and fabrication based on the National Security Act, but the prosecution dismissed the case, having accepted Lee’s argument that he “was not aware of omissions in evidence and statements.”

The investigation was a lenient one that didn’t lead to Lee’s prosecution despite the fact that it took into consideration an internal document through which Lee had discussed with the NIS the matter of preventing Yoo Ga-ryeo from receiving legal counsel. In the document, Lee wrote that “in terms of allowing legal counsel, the NIS shouldn’t be the first to unlatch the gate.”

After early retirement from the prosecution service, Lee worked as a lawyer for big domestic law firms before being tapped to serve as the secretary for public office discipline for the incoming Yoon administration.

Even those within the prosecution service are finding Lee’s nomination baffling. During a phone call with the Hankyoreh, a Seoul district prosecutor said, “I was aghast at the news that someone who had been involved with manipulating an espionage case was nominated to serve as the presidential secretary for public office discipline.”

They added, “Criticism that [the appointment] doesn’t correspond with fairness and common sense is inevitable. How is [Lee] supposed to maintain public office discipline of all things when he himself has faults?”

Jang Kyung-wook, a lawyer who defended Yoo Woo-sung in court, also said, “In order to do work concerning public office discipline, one should have nothing to hide, but [Lee] has evaded the issue without a word of apology to the victim. [. . .] Historical truths are bound to be exposed clearly.”

Democratic Party spokesperson Shin Hyun-young also stated that Yoon’s move to “ensure public office discipline by [appointing] someone who overlooked and went along with the NIS’ misrepresentation of an innocent citizen as a spy is preposterous.”

Meanwhile, Yoon has appointed his personal connections within the prosecution service to key posts in the Office of the President, which will be closely assisting him once he takes office.

Yoon Jae-soon, secretary-general of the Bucheon branch of the Incheon District Prosecutors’ Office who previously headed the operational support section of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office while Yoon was prosecutor-general, has been tapped to serve as secretary for administrative affairs, a position in charge of housekeeping for the Office of the President. On the other hand, Bok Doo-kyu, former secretary-general of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office, is most likely to be picked as Yoon’s secretary for personnel affairs.

On Thursday, Yoon’s chief of staff Chang Je-won met with reporters in front of the presidential transition committee’s office in Seoul, where he stated that “security office nominees will be announced on Friday, and the rest [of the nominees] will be announced on Saturday or Sunday.”

By Seo Young-ji, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

button that move to original korean article (클릭시 원문으로 이동하는 버튼)

Related stories