Timeline suggests Deutsch Motors accomplice was lobbying to help Marine division chief

Posted on : 2024-07-11 17:30 KST Modified on : 2024-07-11 17:30 KST
A whistleblower’s recently published recorded phone call with a man convicted of manipulating Deutsch Motors stock prices occurred 18 days before reports that the president had flown into a rage over the outcomes of an internal Marines investigation
President Yoon Suk-yeol and former Marine Corps 1st Division commander Lim Seong-geun. (file photo/Hankyoreh)
President Yoon Suk-yeol and former Marine Corps 1st Division commander Lim Seong-geun. (file photo/Hankyoreh)

Former Black Pearl Invest CEO Lee Jong-ho strenuously denied lobbying a figure identified as “the VIP” to come to the aid of former 1st Marine Division leader Lim Seong-geun, after a recording of a telephone conversation appeared to show him doing as much. 

Lee is considered the “control tower” in a case involving a second round of stock price manipulations at Deutsch Motor, in which first lady Kim Keon-hee has been implicated.

But with Lee’s references to the “VIP” coming sometime before press reports of President Yoon Suk-yeol’s becoming angered when briefed on the results of an internal Marines investigation recommending that police seek charges against Lim for his suspected role in the death of a Marine belonging to his division during flood rescue efforts, many observers suggested it would have been unnatural for Lee to mention the figure first in a conversation if his aim had been not to come to Lim’s aid.

Lee Jong-ho’s phone conversation on Aug. 9, reports of Yoon’s “rage” on Aug. 27

The conversation heard in the recording took place on Aug. 9 between Lee and an attorney and public interest whistleblower identified by the initial “A.”

It began with Whistleblower A saying, “I hear that things are crazy with that division leader [Lim].”

In response, Lee said that another individual — identified by the initial “B” — called him, “saying that [Lim Seong-geun] was going to resign. So I told [Person B], ‘Tell him not to resign. I’ll talk to the VIP.’”

He continued, “I was supposed to go to Pohang to see Lim Seong-geun, and because of this issue, that [explicative] says he’s going to resign, so I made sure he didn’t.”

“I told him not to resign because I was going to talk to the VIP,” he added.

Both Lee and Whistleblower A are former Marines, with the latter also having experience working with the Presidential Security Service.

The date of the conversation on Aug. 9 of last year was long before reports began surfacing of the president becoming “enraged” over the situation with Lim’s referral to the police on negligence charges. Those reports first emerged with an Aug. 27 episode of the MBC current affairs program “Straight,” which shared an investigation progress report drafted by Col. Park Jeong-hun.

Park, who had been booked on charges including insubordination, drafted the document to prepare for an investigation. In it, he wrote that he had “heard from [Marine Corps] commandant [Kim Kye-hwan] that during a presidential office meeting presided over by the president on the morning of [Monday,] July 31, the National Security Office defense aide [secretary] reported that ‘the division commander and seven others are scheduled to be transferred to the police on charges of professional negligence resulting in death following an investigation of a Marines 1st Division drowning incident [during a flood rescue effort].”

“The president immediately became enraged and contacted the Minister of National Defense,” the report continued.

If the telephone conversation content was falsified as Lee has claimed, this would mean he knew ahead of time about the “VIP’s involvement” — which would not be reported until 18 days later — and lied on that basis.

Lee has claimed that the content was actually him reading out a text message sent by Person B to Lim. He has insisted that while the transcript makes him appear to be the subject of the sentences, the actual subject was Person B, while the “VIP” was Marine Corps Commandant Kim Kye-hwan.

Lim Seong-geun denies “rescue” push but acknowledges text from unnamed individual “B”

The conversation between Lee and Whistleblower A also includes a reference to the individual identified as “Person B” sending a text message to Lim.

In the conversation, Lee said, “[Person B] forwarded me a text [they] sent [to Lim Seong-geun]. I told [them] that I would talk to the VIP and that [Lim] should not submit his resignation.”

“That’s because there may be an announcement next year.  They’re going to make him a four-star Marine. But these days, the mass media have been going in on him harder and harder,” he continued.

In remarks on Tuesday, Lim denied efforts to come to his aid, while raising the possibility that the recording was pieced together in misleading ways.

But he also acknowledged the text message from Person B in the recording.

“On an unspecified date after Aug. 2 of last year, I received a text message from [Person B] basically saying, ‘I saw in the press that you’re announcing your resignation. Take good care of yourself,’” he said, adding that he “could not remember the date or the exact content.”

“I have no memory of speaking on the telephone. If you check [Person B’s] telephone records, it will clearly show that,” he continued.

On July 28 of last year, Lim announced his resignation to Marine Corps Commandant Kim Kye-hwan. On July 30, Kim met privately with then-Minister of National Defense Lee Jong-sup to discuss Lim’s release from assignment and successor. Lim was relieved of his duties on July 31.

But that same day, the Ministry of National Defense abruptly changed its stance and ordered the Marine Corps to “have Commander Lim report to his normal duties as of tomorrow.” A day later on Aug. 1, Lim returned to his duties.

Any efforts to “rescue” him would have had to come before that. While stressing that he had not spoken to Person B on the phone, Lim suggested that because the text message from Person B came around Aug. 2, it had nothing to do with any rescue campaign.

On Wednesday, the presidential office denied any attempt to save Lim’s position. In a position statement that afternoon, the office said, “Regarding reports by a Mr. Lee, who is involved in the Deutsch Motor stock price manipulation case, alleging that he lobbied on Commander Lim’s behalf by saying he would ‘speak to the VIP,’ neither the presidential office or the president or first lady was involved in any way.”

“The presidential office expresses its deep dismay over the baseless claims and indiscriminate reporting of allegations, and it plans to respond forcefully to the spreading of false information,” it said.

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

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

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