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Blue House accused of cover-up

Investigator says he was fired for finding proof envoy took bribes
Dec 17,2018
A former investigator with the Blue House special inspection bureau accused President Moon Jae-in’s top aides of covering up bribery allegations against Korean Ambassador to Russia Woo Yoon-keun and said he was kicked out of the prestigious Blue House team for looking into the case.

Kim Tae-wu, an investigator with the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office who was temporarily dispatched to the Blue House last year to work for the special inspection bureau, told local media on Saturday that he was victimized for targeting Woo, a high-profile figure in Korean liberal politics who formerly served as a lawmaker in the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and has close ties with Moon. In an email to several media outlets, Kim said he wanted to shed light on the truth and recover his tarnished reputation.

Both the Blue House and Woo adamantly denied Kim’s claims that the envoy was bribed. In scathing remarks, Yoon Young-chan, Moon’s senior secretary for public affairs, referred to Kim as a “loach” in a written statement issued to Blue House correspondents on Saturday, saying the investigator was “completely muddying stream water” now that he’s been cornered.

Yoon added that the truth will soon be revealed and the Blue House will “certainly” press legal charges against Kim for the spread of false information and defamation. Yoon went on to express “deep regret” for the local media outlets who were writing stories based on “unilateral claims” from Kim. Kim was one of 20 to 30 members of the so-called special inspection bureau under the office of Cho Kuk, presidential senior secretary for civil affairs.

The bureau was composed of members from the police and prosecution, whose job was to monitor signs of corruption among high-level government officials tapped by Moon, mostly ministers and vice ministers, as well as the president’s family. If they found issues, they would refer those cases to investigative authorities like the police or prosecutors’ offices.

On Nov. 29, the Blue House announced that Kim had been fired from the bureau and sent back to his original post at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, accusing him of interfering in a police investigation by trying to collect information on a bribery case in which his acquaintance was involved by pretending it was linked to the Blue House, when it actually wasn’t. Around that time, some local media outlets reported that bureau staff were playing golf during office hours.

Just hours after the Blue House announced Kim was fired, the top office announced that it would fire all members on the bureau to “reform the atmosphere,” but refused to confirm the golfing accusations.

The Blue House said it had no power to take disciplinary action against the dispatched workers, so it asked their respective agencies to investigate the matter on their own to decide whether the officials were involved in any misconduct and punish them if need be. The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office said over the past weekend that it was investigating Kim’s case.

Last Friday, the Blue House announced a broad reform plan for the bureau, saying that officials from the Board of Audit and Inspection and the National Tax Service will be added to the team. Cho, the senior secretary of civil affairs who oversees the bureau, said in a written statement that the bureau will change its name to the public service inspection bureau in order to water down the “authoritative” nuance of the old name.

Cho continued that the inspection bureau will operate on a new set of 21 rules chiefly aimed at preventing any possibility that members could interfere in investigations that have already been referred to authorities or receive favors from people they are supposed to monitor.

News on the inspection bureau took a significant turn on Friday evening, when local broadcaster SBS reported that it received an email from Kim saying he was victimized by Blue House aides for targeting Korean Ambassador to Russia Woo.

In the email sent to SBS, Kim accused Woo of receiving 10 million won ($8,800) over two transactions in 2009 from a businessman who asked him to pull the strings to help a family member land a job. At the time, Woo was serving as a DP lawmaker. Seven years later, when Woo wanted to run for president, he feared the bribe would get in his way, according to Kim, so asked his acquaintance to return the cash to the businessman.

Kim told SBS that he informed the Blue House of the illegal transaction in a report in September 2017, when he was a member of the Blue House special inspection bureau. At the time, according to Kim, the head of the bureau, Cho, presidential chief of staff Im Jong-seok and anti-corruption secretary Park Hyoung-chul were all told about the report and the allegations.

Kim said that the inspection bureau’s head told him that Im determined the accusations were true and that Im said he’d come up with a solution. Nothing further happened, and Kim blamed Cho and Im for not carrying out an investigation into Woo. Kim sent a similar email to other media outlets on Saturday.

In a recent telephone interview with JoongAng Sunday, Woo denied the allegations that he received money from the businessman in 2009, although he said he did meet him and the businessman did offer to support him with 5 million won. Seven years later when he tried to run for president, Woo said the businessman kept asking for money in return for helping him during the presidential campaign, adding he was bankrupt. Woo told the paper that he lent the businessman 10 million won.

Blue House spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said Saturday in a written statement that the Blue House would’ve fired investigator Kim last year if they held a grudge against him, as he claims. The spokesman added that Woo wasn’t subject to investigation from the inspection bureau because he was secretary general of the National Assembly when Kim submitted the report. Spokesman Kim said the investigator filed the report in August 2017, not September 2017 as the investigator claims. The Blue House investigated the allegation through a different route, said the Blue House spokesman, when Moon was thinking about appointing him to the post of Korean ambassador to Moscow. In this process, said the spokesman, Cho was informed about Woo's accusations, but not Im. Woo was found innocent, said the spokesman.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, YOON SUNG-MIN, KANG TAE-HWA AND SOHN GUK-HEE [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]