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The fall of spy bosses

Nov 16,2017
Nam Jae-joon who served as the National Intelligence Service (NIS) chief from March 2013 to May 2014; Lee Byung-kee, his successor from July 2014 to March 2015; and Lee Byung-ho, who headed the spy agency until President Moon Jae-in was inaugurated in May all face criminal charges for misappropriating public funds.

They are accused of regularly taking out 50 million ($44,811) to 100 million won from the agency’s account for special operations to give the money to President Park Geun-hye. The prosecution estimates the misappropriation totals 4 to 5 billion won. Two NIS chiefs under President Kim Dae-jung were arrested for illegal wiretapping, but this is the first time for the agency to see all of its chiefs under a single president prosecuted.

The NIS special account is a budget reserved for classified intelligence activities whose confidentiality is protected. The NIS gets about 500 billion won a year for such activities. The 4 billion won from the account that went to Park’s aides Ahn Bong-geun, Lee Jae-man, and Jeong Ho-seong is said to have been spent to finance public polls in favor of the president. The aides also used the money for personal use. The NIS chiefs testified that they made the regular contributions since they could not refuse a presidential order.

Channeling tax money to the private pockets of the president is a criminal act beyond justification. Their excuse that they were acting out what had been a custom also cannot be excused. If a classified budget has been misappropriated, the act must be fixed and regulated. The prosecution has just cause to delve into the affair.

Prosecutors admit that it is not easy to file heavy charges against all of the NIS chiefs as they are not in the position to disobey presidential orders. There is a Supreme Court ruling that stipulates that civil servants need not obey decrees that are unquestionably illegal. But it is not easy for a government employee to deliberate the immorality and illegality of each order they get before executing it. Charges must be determined based on how willing and eager they had been in taking up the orders.

It is disheartening to witness the fall of former NIS chiefs. Making them scapegoats and punishing them for being there at the wrong time can be cruel. No one would want to take up a senior public seat if there is a risk that they would be prosecuted once someone new is elected.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 15, Page 34