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Detention request for ex-NIS official denied by court

Choo has residence and family so wasn’t seen as a flight risk
Oct 21,2017
The Seoul Central District Court rejected the prosecution’s warrant request on Friday to detain Choo Myeong-ho, former National Intelligence Service (NIS) bureau chief, for its investigation into the spy agency’s alleged meddling into domestic politics during the two previous conservative administrations of Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye.

Choo was accused of violating the National Intelligence Service Act and was taken into custody on Tuesday for questioning, but Judge Kang Bu-yeong said Friday the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office failed to present enough evidence to detain him. Kang also said Choo has permanent residence and family ties, concluding that he is not a flight risk.

The prosecution issued a statement to challenge the court’s decision, promising additional probes.

“Choo is one of the top officials of the NIS and was deeply involved in the agency’s decision-making,” the prosecution said in a statement, adding that he is suspected of having been involved in political operations to smear liberal celebrities and politicians, force tax probes of celebrities who were critical of conservative governments and the Park administration’s “cultural blacklist” to oppress artists and cultural figures who were critical of the government.

“We asked for the detention warrant because we concluded his charges are serious,” the prosecution said. “But the court said it sees no need to detain the suspect because the prosecution already obtained the basic evidence, and because Choo has been showing up in the investigations.”

The prosecution said it will speedily investigate other charges of Choo and reapply for a warrant. Choo will be investigated on charges of conducting illegal surveillance against public servants and civilians and secretly making reports to Woo Byung-woo, former civil affairs senior secretary of the Park Blue House, the prosecution said.

During the Lee administration, Choo served as the head of the national interest strategy team. He was suspected of having oppressed liberal politicians who promoted a campaign to lower college tuitions. He was also accused of having run an operation to oppress liberal celebrities by depriving them of opportunities to appear on TV and forcing probes into their tax records.

Choo served as the national interest intelligence bureau chief during the Park administration, and is accused of using the so-called blacklist against liberal artists.

Earlier in the day, the court also struck down the prosecution’s request to issue a warrant to detain Chu Seon-hee, former secretary general of a conservative civic group Korean Neoliberal Union. He was accused of receiving funds and requests from the NIS to host violent demonstrations against liberal politicians. He was also accused of defamation and blackmailing. Judge Oh Min-seok said the prosecutors made a convincing argument about his charges, but there was no risk that he will flee or destroy evidence.

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