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Suicide casts doubts on power abuse investigation

Dec 10,2018
Conservative politicians on Sunday flocked to the wake for former Defense Security Command (DSC) chief Lee Jae-su, whose suicide note vowed he had not a trace of guilt.

Lee, former head of the controversial and disbanded military intelligence unit, jumped to his death from a building in southern Seoul on Friday after undergoing months of investigations by the prosecution on allegations of power abuse.

While head of the DSC in 2014, Lee allegedly ordered illegal surveillance of family members of the victims of the Sewol ferry sinking, in an attempt to rein in the families’ criticisms of the Park Geun-hye administration’s botched rescue operation.

Last year, the Moon Jae-in government opened a series of prosecutorial investigations into possible illegal activities conducted by the DSC under Park. Lee denied to prosecutors pursuing his case that the unit had ever spied on civilians.

These denials were echoed in Lee’s suicide note, disclosed by his lawyer to the press on Saturday. Lee wrote that the DSC under his command had done its best to serve the country and that he had nothing to be ashamed of in regards to the families of the Sewol ferry victims.

“I will go now having taken all [responsibility], so be generous to those left behind,” the note read. “I regret that we are being accused of surveillance for something that happened over five years ago.”

Lee’s fateful decision, analysts say, appears to have been prompted by a growing sense of hopelessness that he and his DSC comrades would be unable to escape a tightening noose by the prosecution.

Three of his former subordinates, reported to be of colonel-rank, have already been detained for the alleged surveillance, and Lee himself attended a hearing on Monday for his arrest, though it was denied that same day.

Particularly damning to the DSC, which was eventually shuttered and replaced by a unit with reduced powers in September, was one document in which it classified the victims’ families into three different categories - hard-line, moderate and soft-line - based on their attitudes toward the Park administration.

Prosecutors argued that Lee, who was a close friend of Park Geun-hye’s younger brother when they were both cadets in the Korea Military Academy, had effectively mounted an unconstitutional campaign to curb potential threats to Park’s rule ahead of the local elections that took place in June 2014.

But Lee’s suicide on Friday is likely to cast doubt over the investigation, which the conservative opposition, led by the Liberty Korea Party (LKP), construes as an act of political revenge by the Moon administration against those who served under the now-jailed Park.

“The Moon government’s revenge-bent investigations into past issues has prompted a tragic death,” said LKP floor leader Kim Sung-tae after paying his respects at Lee’s mourning altar in southern Seoul.

A Who’s Who of Korea’s conservative politicians visited the general’s mourning altar over the weekend.

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