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[Editorial] Wiretapping Scandal Needs A Special Prosecutor Right Now

[Editorial] Wiretapping Scandal Needs A Special Prosecutor Right Now

Posted July. 28, 2005 11:38,   


We see that it is right for a specially appointed prosecutor to probe into the wiretapping scandal by the Agency for National Security Planning (the name of the agency has since been changed to the National Intelligence Service). This is because the matter is becoming more complicated and could turn into a point of political confrontation between the ruling and opposition party as time passes. In fact, both the prosecution and the National Intelligence Service (NIS) are not well-positioned for an investigation of this kind. If the prosecution or the NIS takes up the case, any conclusion drawn from the investigation by either agency will not be able to drive out a sense of disagreement in the air.

The whole scandal began after the recorded conversation between the then publisher of the JoongAng Ilbo Hong Seok-hyun and then vice chairman of Samsung’s corporate restructuring office Lee Hak-soo got leaked to the public. The conversation took place just before the 1997 presidential election during the Kim Young-sam administration. So the center of attention has been what they talked about and what the legality of tapping such a conversation is.

Those whose conversation was eavesdropped on and those involved in the leakage of the recorded tape had an interview the day before yesterday. In the interview, they claimed, “The controversial tape was given to Park Ji-won, then Minister of Culture and Tourism, during the Kim Dae-jung administration. Then NIS chief Chun Yong-taek knowingly covered up the leakage of the tape.” As the new claim comes into the picture, new questions are being raised.

If their claim is true, it means that influential figures in the Kim Dae-jung administration were aware of the existence of the tape. It is quite suspicious that the tape has been brought to light after six years, and that the NIS head turned a blind eye to an apparently illegal act (the leakage of the tape) by his own staffers. These are questions that need to be answered before we can surely know what the truth about the scandal is. The Grand National Party argues that the tape was “specifically picked” to be made public.

Another point of ongoing disagreement is whether the NIS alone can be entrusted with the investigation. At issue is the legal legitimacy of basing the entire investigation on some illicitly acquired materials. Other than that, the tape includes a real-name list of former and incumbent prosecutors who accepted bribes. Under the circumstances, one cannot be certain that the prosecution will be thorough in carrying out the probe. Some suspect that even if the investigative process were completed, the public would find it hard to accept the outcome as it is. And the NIS is an intelligence agency. Given the nature of any intelligence service, 100 percent transparency would not be possible, skeptics say.

On balance, it is appropriate for a special prosecutor to handle the case. Compared to other investigators, a special prosecutor is more likely to take a neutral position in digging for the truth. If the authorities keep dragging their feet, the scandal could end up causing a lot of trouble for the nation and still be left unsolved. The governing and opposition party have to end their political wrangling, agree to designate a special prosecutor without further delay, and find out what really happened. It is about time both sides brought their conflict to an end.