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Probing a Private Citizen

Posted July. 01, 2010 12:54,   


At a meeting of the National Assembly`s National Policy Committee June 21, main opposition Democratic Party lawmakers Shin Gun and Lee Sung-nam said the government ethics section of the Prime Minister’s Office investigated a person who uploaded video footage slandering President Lee Myung-bak onto his blog and illegally searched his office. They added that a section staff member entered the blogger’s office, looked through accounting documents, and handed them over to prosecutors. Kwon Tae-shin, chief of staff at the Prime Minister`s Office, was asked if the section has the right to search and seize things from an individual’s office. He answered, “It was wrong to conduct an inspection of a private citizen.”

Set up in July 2008 shortly after nationwide candlelight protests erupted over the resumption of U.S. beef imports, the ethics section monitors and investigates high-ranking government officials, including the heads of state agencies, for inappropriate conduct. The section discovered that the police commissioner of South Gyeongsang Province, a division commander, a branch head of the National Intelligence Service, and the Changwon mayor took bribes from former Taekwang Industry Chairman Park Yeon-cha in summer last year and urged harsh punishment against them. Investigation or summoning of individuals by the section is illegal, however.

The two lawmakers also said the section head reported the operations to the presidential office. Shin said, “I confirmed that section chief Lee In-gyu reported the section’s activities to Lee Yeong-ho, presidential secretary for employment and labor issues.” Coincidentally, the two hail from Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province, the hometown of President Lee. The section head is said not to have reported matters to his superiors at the Prime Minister’s Office, meaning they placed their connection to President Lee before their official lines of reporting.

Three days after the discovery, section chief Lee was suspended but the office has given no explanation or action. The office said he was suspended for causing trouble, fueling curiosity over why a body tasked with probing government corruption investigated a private citizen. Though belated, the government should get to the bottom of the matter and apologize and punish those responsible if something illegal was committed. This is the best way to minimize repercussions.

Editorial Writer Park Yeong-kyun (parkyk@donga.com)