Former defense minister turned over recently activated cell phone as ‘evidence’ during investigation concerning dead marine

Posted on : 2024-03-13 16:15 KST Modified on : 2024-03-18 10:32 KST
Justice Ministry cites cell phone as key reason for lifting travel ban on Lee Jong-sup
Former Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup is shown in Brisbane, Australia, before departing for the capital of Canberra. (MBC screenshot)
Former Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup is shown in Brisbane, Australia, before departing for the capital of Canberra. (MBC screenshot)

Shortly before his departure to Australia to serve the South Korean ambassador, former Minister of National Defense Lee Jong-sup turned over a recently activated cell phone to the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials (CIO), who was questioning him over alleged interference in a Marine Corps investigation into a lance corporal’s death. The lance corporal drowned during rescue efforts amid a flood last year.

The phone in question had been activated after Lee’s alleged interference.

In attempts to explain the lifting of an exit ban placed on Lee, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) stated that Lee had “voluntarily reported to the CIO for questioning and temporarily turned over evidence [his phone].”

The opposition Democratic Party has proposed pursuing legislation that would appoint a special prosecutor to independently investigate the various allegations surrounding Lee’s departure to Australia.

Inquiries from the Hankyoreh on Tuesday found that while appearing before the CIO for questioning on Mar. 7, Lee submitted a position statement regarding the charges and temporarily turned over his mobile phone.

But the phone Lee handed over was activated in early August 2023, around the time when he allegedly meddled in the Marine Corps investigation. 

On Tuesday, the CIO reiterated its intention to summon Lee for further questioning.

In a regular briefing at the Government Complex Gwacheon, a CIO official said, “The questioning [on Mar. 7] lasted for four hours, so our investigators were not able to sufficiently question the suspect.”

“Our position is that additional questioning is absolutely necessary, and the investigation team stands firm in this position,” the CIO added, although they did not comment on when the additional questioning might take place.

The Democratic Party has called for legislation for a special prosecutor to investigate Lee. On Tuesday morning, Democratic Party senior vice floor leader Park Ju-min submitted a bill for a “special prosecutor to investigate illegal actions during former Defense Minister Lee Jong-sub’s overseas flight” to the National Assembly.

Afterward, he explained that its “major focus is an investigation into the presidential office, the Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which appear to have been involved in [Ambassador] Lee’s overseas flight.”

But if the ruling People Power Party (PPP) objects, the legislation in question is likely to be discarded without clearing the 21st National Assembly.

Park explained, “The objective is to pass the special prosecutor bill, and since the currentl National Assembly will be operating even after the general election [until May 29], we will do our best in the time remaining.”

“Since the president himself is a subject of the allegations, he should refrain from vetoing this special prosecutor bill,” Park added.

A day earlier, the Democratic Party said it would be pursuing the impeachment of Minister of Foreign Affairs Cho Tae-yul and Minister of Justice Park Sung-jae for their role in Lee’s departure from the country.

PPP floor leader Yun Jae-ok criticized the Democratic Party for its “barrage of special prosecutor bills.”

“We have consistently maintained that the incident concerning Lance Corporal Chae is not subject to a special prosecutor [investigation], and if there is an investigation of Ambassador Lee, he will report for it whenever,” Yun told reporters.

He also said, “The CIO should have questioned Lee once the allegations were reported, as opposed to waiting and then hurriedly imposing an exit ban, which it seems to want extended indefinitely without actually investigating.”

By Jeong Hye-min and Um Ji-won, staff reporters

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