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PM’s office raided in election-meddling probe

Dec 19,2019
Prosecutors raided the prime minister’s office in Jongno District, central Seoul, Wednesday to collect evidence on how an official there compiled a report on the former Ulsan mayor in 2017 that accused the mayor’s aides of corruption - and passed the report to the police, allegedly pressuring them to open a probe three months before the mayor sought a second consecutive term.

Former Ulsan Mayor Kim Gi-hyeon, who was backed by the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, eventually lost to the candidate backed by the ruling Democratic Party (DP) in the latest Ulsan mayoral election, which was held on June 13, 2018.

For nearly a month, the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office has been investigating suspicions that the Blue House interfered in last year’s election, and the raid on the prime minister’s office Wednesday was the latest development in the probe.

An official in the civil affairs division of the prime minister’s office, who’s only been identified as a 52-year-old man surnamed Moon, had received a tip-off from Ulsan’s current Vice Mayor Song Byung-gi in October 2017 about the corruption allegations against Kim’s aides. Moon, at the time, was temporarily dispatched to the Blue House secretary for civil affairs office to serve as an official. Before entering the Blue House, Moon is known to have been an investigator from the prosecution.

Based on what he heard from Song, Moon made a report about the case and passed it on to Baek Won-woo, who was the presidential secretary for civil affairs. The report was subsequently referred to the police.

On Wednesday morning at around 9 a.m., a team of about 10 investigators and a prosecutor descended on the fourth floor of the annex to the prime minister’s office in Changseong-dong, Jongno District, where Moon works, to confiscate documents and his computer hard drive.

In a previous raid on Dec. 6 when prosecutors descended on Song’s residence and office in Ulsan, they got hold of his personal notebook, which, according to an exclusive report from the JoongAng Ilbo Wednesday, contained information indicating he held several meetings with Blue House officials before last year’s election.

According to the JoongAng Ilbo report, the 30-page notebook contained words such as “BH [Blue House] meeting” and “BH visit,” as well as what Song talked about with officials from the presidential office.

In one instance, the notebook detailed that in March 2018 during a “BH meeting,” Song met with the presidential secretary for social policy three months before the election was to be held. Prosecutors reportedly believe Song received advice from the Blue House as to which campaign promises the DP’s contender for Ulsan mayor should promote and how the government could help the contender fulfill those vows.

When the local media previously reported that Song met with a senior official in the Blue House’s secretary for balanced development office in January 2018, five months before the election, a Blue House official explained to reporters that the meeting was held to explain President Moon Jae-in’s policy pledges, not to discuss the DP candidate’s campaign promises.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, JEONG JIN-HO [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]