Parliamentary investigation into NIS election interference goes nowhere

Posted on : 2013-08-17 14:58 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Both implicated former senior officials refuse to take an oath swearing to tell the truth, and receive coddling from the ruling party
 August 16. (by Kim Jeong-hyo
August 16. (by Kim Jeong-hyo

By Kim Nam-il, staff reporter

It was a mortifying day in Yeouido for citizens seeking the truth on the National Intelligence Service (NIS) scandal.

A parliamentary investigation into the NIS’s systematic interference in last December’s presidential election and the police’s attempt to cover it up in their investigation met a severe setback at an Aug. 16 hearing when two major witnesses refused an oath to tell the truth. People who were hoping to get a few steps closer to the truth were met instead with the bitter disappointment of seeing witnesses who seemed inordinately pleased with themselves.

Former NIS director Won Sei-hoon and former Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency commissioner Kim Yong-pan both appeared that day as witnesses at a National Assembly hearing for the special NIS audit committee. Both refused to swear to tell the truth under penalty of punishment according to the Act on Testimony, Appraisal, etc., before the National Assembly. At the same time, they also strenuously denied prosecutors’ charges of election interference and a cover-up under questioning from lawmakers.

Won and Kim had been absent without clear reason from a hearing scheduled for Aug. 14. Lawmakers from both the ruling and opposition parties sent a warrant of accompanying telling them they could be reported for another absence. Kim arrived at 10 am on Aug. 16, Won at 2 pm. Both were accompanied by their counsel.

In a move suggestive of coordination beforehand, both refused to take an oath to tell the truth, saying it “could influence the trial.” It was the first time in National Assembly history that witnesses summoned there had refused an oath.

The special committee was formed following a vote at the National Assembly’s plenary session on July 2. Progress was slow due to a mixture of stalling tactics by the ruling Saenuri Party (NFP) and a lack of strategy from the opposition, with the sides arguing over the composure of the committee, the method of drafting an organizational report for the NIS, and the selection of witnesses. The battle drew on for another 45 days before Won and Kim were finally called as key witnesses for the hearing.

But the hearing failed to achieve its purpose, with both witnesses using ploys to avoid perjury. This included choosing to answer only ruling party questions that painted them in a positive light, while dodging awkward or incriminating opposition questions with replies of “I cannot answer that” or “I cannot agree.”

Indeed, Saenuri Party members of the committee seemed to be covering for the witnesses, speaking repeatedly of the “political machinations of a Democratic Party that is fixated on the outcome of the presidential election” - speaking in reference to the case where the Park Geun-hye administration’s own prosecutors charged violations of the Public Official Election Act and National Intelligence Service Act.

Viewers who watched the proceedings live on television expressed profound disappointment at the behavior of the witnesses, both former high-ranking public officials, and of the Saenuri Party lawmakers.

Political critic Yu Chang-seon called it “worse than expected.”

“These former senior public officials both refused to swear oaths, and chose to deny all of the prosecutors’ complaints,” he said. “They were basically saying they don’t care if they perjure themselves before the public. And the Saenuri Party lawmakers were so overprotective of them you’d think they were their counsel.”

According to Yu, many people were “enraged” after watching the hearings.

“We’re likely to see even bigger candlelight protests this weekend,” he predicted.

Another hearing is scheduled for Aug. 19, along with a preliminary hearing on Aug. 21. But the attitudes of the witnesses and Saenuri Party have many predicting the investigation will accomplish little in the remaining week.

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