Rep. Kim Woong of the People Power Party holds a press conference on Wednesday at the National Assembly Press Center regarding allegations that he received criminal complaints directed at ruling party figures from a prosecutor close to former Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl in April 2020. (pool photo)
An explanatory press conference was held Wednesday by Kim Woong, the People Power Party (PPP) lawmaker named as a middleman and key link in allegations that prosecutors attempted to incite the party to file a criminal complaint while under the leadership of former Prosecutor General and current presidential contender Yoon Seok-youl.
This was his first official press conference in the six days since the allegations were first reported by Newsverse. But with his vague answers, Kim didn’t just fail to clear matters up — he added to the confusion.
His response concerned allegations that directly preceding the general elections on April 15, 2020, he received — and passed on to the United Future Party (the PPP’s predecessor) — a criminal complaint document and evidentiary materials from then-Supreme Prosecutors’ Office (SPO) investigation intelligence policy officer (and current Daegu High Prosecutors’ Office human rights officer) Son Jun-seong.
The documents, which were passed along on two occasions on April 3 and 8, allegedly concerned a total of 13 people, including three figures in the ruling Democratic Party as well as others involved with the media.
In his response, Kim said that he had “no memory of and no way of checking whether I received the complaint and other material at the time.”
It’s difficult to fathom how he could claim not to remember something so important that happened just 17 months ago — yet he did say he remembered a text he sent to Son at the time asking him to do his best to help out Yoon.
It’s difficult to shake the impression that Kim is being deeply irresponsible.
Kim also spoke about a second delivery allegedly made on April 8, 2020, with a criminal complaint document for Open Democratic Party leader Choe Kang-wook.
“I did not draft that,” he said.
Yoon’s camp released a recording in which Kim told Newsverse that he had drafted the complaint against Choe; their claim is that there was no “incitement to file a complaint” on the part of Yoon or prosecutors’ office.
But Kim revised his response, claiming that what he said during the recording was based on his misunderstanding of the reporter’s question. That means the possibility that the complaint was drafted and passed along by prosecutors cannot be ruled out.
A report by the Hankyoreh showed that the complaint against Choe submitted to prosecutors in August 2020 by the UFP was nearly identical to the complaint document delivered on April 8, all the way down to grammatical particles. This only adds to the suspicions that the party’s actual complaint followed an incitement attempt by prosecutors.
Declaring that he had no memory of the parts where he would be held responsible, Kim also made comments about the person who first raised the allegations.
“They have ‘public interest whistleblower’ status, so I can’t say any more than this, but if their identity came to light, people would understand how this whole business came about,” he said.
In a previous interview with the Dong-A Ilbo, he mentioned the possibility of involvement by a rival presidential candidate’s camp within the party, stating that the whistleblower was someone “out to get both Yoon Seok-youl and [former lawmaker] Yoo Seong-min.”
One gets the impression that he is trying to downplay the message by discrediting the messenger.
The key question in this case is whether prosecutors — for whom political neutrality is absolutely essential — colluded with a particular party to encourage the filing of a criminal complaint in order to influence the outcome of a general election. Rather than back-and-forth battles between political camps, what the South Korean public wants is the truth.
In a press conference the same afternoon, Yoon did his own part to dismiss the criminal complaint in question as a “mystery document with no source or author.” Commenting on the person behind the allegations, he said, “There isn’t anyone in the Yeouido [political world] who doesn’t know about the things this person has done in the past, and I’ve heard about them too.”
He seemed to still be pushing the “political maneuvering” angle, without providing any evidence to back it up.
Since Kim Woong squandered his opportunity to clear up the facts, the only option now seems to be an investigation, whether by the prosecutors’ office or by the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials (CIO).
The SPO’s inspection department is conducting an inquiry, but there are clear limits to that approach, given that inspections are not compulsory. They should switch to a compulsory investigation approach at once, if only to avoid the risk of evidence being destroyed.
The prosecutors’ office and CIO should also move quickly to coordinate matters, since the case is a matter for prosecutors if the charges involve Public Official Election Act violations, and for the CIO if they concern abuse of power.
If things were as above board as Yoon claims, he should comply with an investigation.
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