Prosecutors ramp up probes into Moon-era figures with rapid-fire raids

Posted on : 2022-08-22 17:44 KST Modified on : 2022-08-22 17:44 KST
Two separate wings have started search and seizures on the Presidential Archives over investigations into cases tied to the Moon Jae-in administration
Prosecutors from multiple offices conducted raids on the Presidential Archives in Sejong on Aug. 19. (Yonhap News)
Prosecutors from multiple offices conducted raids on the Presidential Archives in Sejong on Aug. 19. (Yonhap News)

The prosecution service, which is currently investigating the repatriation of North Korean fishers and the early closure of the Wolsong nuclear power plant, ramped up its search and seizure of presidential records relevant to its probes on Monday. Suh Hoon, former director of the Blue House National Security Office (NSO), will face investigation soon regarding the 2020 case of the civil servant who was slain by North Korean fire in the waters off of Korea’s western coast as well.

These are all cases for which the People Power Party (PPP) formed fact-finding task forces or submitted criminal complaints, and on the same day the prosecution decided to expand its investigation, the PPP went ahead and pressed additional charges at the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office. With indictments in the prosecution’s possession snowballing, key Blue House and security figures from the Moon Jae-in administration have been encircled by the prosecution only three months into President Yoon Suk-yeol’s term.

The third public investigation department of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office (SCDPO), headed by Lee Jun-beom, which is currently investigating the case of the repatriated fishers, carried out preliminary procedures to browse and obtain copies of records at the Presidential Archives located in Sejong from Saturday to Sunday. On Friday, the first day of the warrant’s execution, the investigation team discussed the search and seizure process with the Presidential Archives. Starting Monday, the investigation team will be checking whether records related to the repatriation were transferred from the Blue House NSO, with legal representatives of parties related to the case in attendance.

The fourth criminal department of the Daejeon District Prosecutors’ Office, headed by Kim Tae-hun, which also began search and seizure procedures on the Presidential Archives on the same day as the SCDPO, will be checking records related to the early closure of the Wolsong nuclear power plant.

The process of browsing and checking presidential records is not simple. The search and seizure of the Presidential Archives in mid-July of 2018, which the SCDPO conducted in order to investigate allegations that the South Korean Army’s Cyber Operations Command manipulated public opinion during the Lee Myung-bak administration, ended in mid-October of the same year. This was because specific keywords related to the investigation had to be individually inputted into the presidential records management system, after which investigators had to go through the process of searching, browsing, agreeing to terms and conditions, requesting and exporting relevant documents.

In 2017, a raid was conducted on the Presidential Archives over two weeks as part of the investigation into allegations that the Park Geun-hye administration manipulated the time at which it received reports about the Sewol ferry incident. At the time, Yoon Suk-yeol and Han Dong-hoon — now the president and justice minister, respectively — were the very individuals who directed the search and seizure of presidential records of the previous administration at the SCDPO.

If relevant documents are not obtained despite an extended search and seizure process, the prosecution service may allege that records were illegally deleted, just like during the case surrounding the minutes from the 2007 inter-Korean summit during the Park administration. The Supreme Court reached a guilty verdict regarding this case last month, and the investigation team handling the case of the repatriated fishers has been consistently referencing the precedent left by the ruling.

Prosecutors with the Daejeon District Prosecutors’ Office walk into the Presidential Archives in Sejong on Aug. 19 to perform a search and seizure regarding the decision to shutter a nuclear plant in Wolseong early. (Yonhap News)
Prosecutors with the Daejeon District Prosecutors’ Office walk into the Presidential Archives in Sejong on Aug. 19 to perform a search and seizure regarding the decision to shutter a nuclear plant in Wolseong early. (Yonhap News)

The direction of these investigations and the specifics of the criminal complaints indicate that the three cases are all ultimately targeting Moon. Close to 30 figures related to Moon, including two of his former chiefs of staff, have been subject to criminal complaints or forced investigation including search and seizures.

A lawyer who formerly worked as a prosecutor in the service’s national security division commented, “The prosecution service’s search and seizure of the Presidential Archives mean that it will look into the Blue House’s decision-making process and expand its investigation to include the higher-ups.”

So far, at least 12 people including Moon, Noh Young-min (former presidential chief of staff), Youn Kun-young (former director of the Blue House office of state affairs and planning), Chung Eui-yong (former director of the Blue House NSO), Suh Hoon (former director of the National Intelligence Service), Kim Yeon-chul (former minister of unification), and Jeong Kyeong-du (former minister of national defense) have been charged or are being investigated for the case of the repatriated North Korean fishers.

Regarding the case of the civil servant slain in the West Sea, at least five figures, including Suh Hoon and Suh Wook (former minister of national defense), have been charged or are being investigated, while the case of the early closure of the Wolsong nuclear power plant involves seven who were charged or are currently being investigated, including Moon, Lim Jong-seok (former presidential chief of staff), Kim Soo-hyun (former senior presidential secretary for social affairs), Park Won-joo (former senior presidential secretary of economic affairs), and Paik Un-gyu (former minister of trade, industry and energy).

On Friday, when the prosecution began its search and seizure of the Presidential Archives, the PPP filed criminal complaints against 10 figures including Noh, alleging that they were involved with the case of the North Korean fishing boat that docked at the port of Samcheok in June 2019 as well as the case of the North Korean patrol boat that crossed over the Northern Limit Line near Baengnyeong Island. The PPP stated, “While a criminal complaint was not filed against [Moon], if Noh received directions from a higher-up, we believe the prosecution will naturally conduct an investigation.”

As former presidential chief of staff You Young-min is also facing charges for another case, all three presidential chiefs of staff who advised Moon during his five-year term are being investigated by the prosecution service. In March 2019, the Liberty Korea Party (the forerunner to today’s PPP) filed a criminal complaint alleging that You pressured the director of an organization affiliated with the Ministry of Science and ICT to resign while he was leading the organization as minister, and the Seoul Eastern District Prosecutors’ Office conducted a search and seizure related to the case last month, three years since charges were pressed.

By Kang Jae-gu, staff reporter

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