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Reps question martial law probe

Joint investigation gave up this week after hitting dead end
Nov 09,2018
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle decided Thursday to hold a parliamentary hearing on allegations that a military intelligence unit drafted martial law plans in October 2016 - and why the military and prosecutors gave up their own probe of those events Wednesday.

Following a consultation session at the National Assembly Thursday morning, the floor leaders of Korea’s three largest parties - the ruling Democratic Party and the opposition Liberty Korea Party and Bareunmirae Party - said that the parliamentary defense committee would hold a hearing at a date to be agreed upon later.

On Wednesday, a joint probe by the military and prosecutors gave up its investigations after it failed to track down a former commander of the now-disbanded Defense Security Command (DSC). Cho Hyun-chun, a former lieutenant general who led the unit from Oct. 2014 to Sept. 2017, is a primary suspect behind the drafting of an extensive martial law document. He left for the United States last December and his whereabouts are not known.

In July, a lawmaker revealed that the DSC had drawn up a contingency plan to impose martial law last year in case the Constitutional Court rejected the impeachment of former President Park Geun-hye, sparking big protests. The plans included procedures to arrest opposition lawmakers and civilians for what it defined as “anti-state activities.”

Allegations of what critics called plans for a “self-coup” by military figures close to Park raised the specter of authoritarianism familiar from Korea’s not-so-distant past and prompted the newly elected Moon Jae-in government to take extraordinary measures to rein in the unit.

Days before the DSC itself was disbanded in August to be replaced by a weakened and civilian-supervised Defense Security Support Command, a special investigation team consisting of 37 prosecutors and military officials was launched to probe the martial law plan and track down its designers. A total of 287 officials were questioned and over 90 sites raided, including the DSC headquarters, Ministry of Defense and army headquarters.

Parliamentary leaders agreed then that they would hold legislative hearings on the coup plans once the results of the special investigation came out.

But on Wednesday, the joint probe said it had little to show for its four months of investigation. One source within the team told reporters that it were unable to find evidence that either Park herself or then-Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn had ordered the creation of the plan.

The special team said it would effectively suspend its probes into eight prominent figures including Park, Hwang and a number of former cabinet and Blue House officials until Cho is arrested. They concluded it would be impossible to determine the origins of the plan without getting his testimony.

The main opposition Liberty Korea Party, which has struggled since Park’s impeachment to shed itself of its association with the former president, took the opportunity Thursday to lash out at the Moon administration, accusing it of making up a coup conspiracy to suit its political needs.

Its agreeing to holding a parliamentary hearing on the matter, analysts say, may stem from the calculation that the inquiry would yield little anyway - at least until Cho is captured and extradited back home.


BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]