[Exclusive] Yoon called defense chief 3 times on day Marine’s case was handed to police

Posted on : 2024-05-29 17:26 KST Modified on : 2024-05-29 17:26 KST
Call logs examined by the Hankyoreh show that the president, the minister of defense, the minister of defense’s office, and the National Security Office all exchanged contact over the case
President Yoon Suk-yeol and former Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup. (Yonhap)
President Yoon Suk-yeol and former Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup. (Yonhap)

President Yoon Suk-yeol personally called then-Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup three times on the day the findings of the Marine Corps investigation team’s probe into the death of a young Marine surnamed Chae were transferred to the police and then recalled, according to call logs examined by the Hankyoreh. 

Yoon went on to directly call Lee again six days later, one day prior to Lee’s decision to refer the case to the Defense Ministry’s Criminal Investigation Command. Evidence that Yoon called Lee whenever the case was set to enter a new investigative stage raises the possibility that the president was directly involved in how the case was handled. 

According to Lee Jong-sup’s call logs from August 2023, which were obtained and examined by the Hankyoreh on Tuesday, Yoon first called Lee at 12:07 pm on Aug. 2, on a cell phone he has been using since his days in the prosecution service. The call lasted 4 minutes and 5 seconds and took place 17 minutes after the Marine Corps investigation team sent a report to the Gyeongbuk Provincial Police Agency detailing charges against eight people, including Lim Seong-geun, the commander of the 1st Marine Division, of manslaughter due to occupational negligence. 
 
Yoon called Lee a second time at 12:43 pm, with the call lasting 13 minutes and 43 seconds, and a third time at 12:57 pm, with the call lasting 52 seconds. Between the second and third calls, at 12:45 pm, Col. Park Jeong-hun, the head of the Marine Corps investigation team, was informed that he was being relieved of his duties. 

Six days later, on Aug. 8, Yoon used the same cell phone to call Lee at 7:55 am and spoke with him for 33 seconds. This phone call took place the day before Lee, who was minister of national defense at the time, decided to refer the findings of the Marine Corps investigation team to the Defense Ministry’s Criminal Investigation Command. 

Lee also received a 168-second-long call from the presidential office’s landline on July 31, 2023, the day of the National Security Office meeting at the presidential office in which the president was said to have “lost his temper.” 

At 11:54 am on July 31, 2023, Lee answered a call from a number used by the presidential office — “02-800” — and spoke for 168 seconds. The meeting of the National Security Office, which is said to have triggered the president’s anger, had been held that day starting at 11 am and wrapped up by noon, meaning that the phone call was made at the end of the meeting. 

At 11:57 am, 14 seconds after the call, Lee called Marine Corps Commandant Kim Kye-hwan on his aide’s cell phone and ordered him to cancel the press briefing and put the transfer of the case on hold. Yoon's outburst prompted someone in the presidential office to call Lee, and it was after this call that the order to withhold the transfer of Cpl. Chae’s case to the police was issued.  

The call logs of Park Jin-hee, the military adviser to the defense minister, also exposed the presidential office’s involvement. At 2:07 pm, two or so hours after the findings of the investigation were transferred to the police, Park spoke directly with Lim Ki-hoon, who was serving as the secretary to the president for national defense. Yoon, the minister of defense, the minister of defense’s office, and the National Security Office all exchanged direct contact over Chae’s case.
  
The Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials, which obtained the call logs in question, is investigating what instructions Yoon and other presidential office officials may have given to the Ministry of Defense at the time and whether those instructions were appropriate. 

By Bae Ji-hyun, staff reporter; Oh Yeon-seo, staff reporter 

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

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