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Blue House raid request rejected

Feb 17,2017
A local court dismissed Thursday independent counsel Park Young-soo’s request to raid the Blue House, effectively blocking the special prosecutors’ from seizing evidence to go after President Park Geun-hye for corruption and abuse of power.

The Seoul Administrative Court ruled Thursday against the special prosecutor’s petition to force the Blue House to lift its ban on the raid. Investigators obtained a search and seizure warrant from the Seoul Central District Court and attempted to raid the Blue House on Feb. 3, but presidential aides blocked it. They said the compound is a military installation that stores state secrets.

The administrative court said the dispute was created by a loophole in the criminal justice system and it is inappropriate to address the issue in an administrative suit. Before the court, the independent counsel team stressed the need to raid the Blue House to obtain key pieces of evidence, including a mobile phone that Park allegedly used to talk to her controversial friend Choi Soon-sil about 600 times. Park was impeached in December for allowing her secret inner circle, including Choi, to influence state affairs.

The Blue House, however, argued that the presidential office and the independent counsel cannot be the parties in an administrative lawsuit, challenging the legal grounds for the independent counsel’s action.

Taking the issue to the administrative court was the independent counsel’s final attempt to search and seize evidence from the presidential compound. Assistant independent counsel Lee Kyu-chul said Thursday it will be practically impossible to raid the Blue House without the court’s approval.

Rep. Park Beom-kye of the Democratic Part said Thursday that the administrative court’s decision is disappointing, but investigators still need to try to raid the Blue House. “The dismissal means the court doesn’t want to be involved,” Park said on his Twitter account. “It also means the search and seizure warrant is still effective and the independent counsel just needs to go ahead and exercise it. This is a matter of will for independent counsel Park Young-soo.”

Earlier this month, the independent counsel obtained the warrant with a specially extended expiration date because it anticipated resistance from the Blue House. Normally, a warrant for search and seizure will expire after a week, but the court allowed a longer period, until the probe’s deadline on Feb. 28.

On Thursday, the independent counsel submitted an application to Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, who is acting president, to grant the team a 30-day extension. Lee said the team was sure the investigation will not conclude by the current deadline.

While Hwang will unlikely approve the extension, the independent counsel’s application will add momentum to the opposition parties’ attempt to revise the law governing the independent counsel to extend the initial investigation period from 70 days to 120 days.

If the revision is passed before the current probe concludes at the end of this month, investigators will have until mid April to wrap up their probe.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]