Won Sei-hoon has become the first former intelligence chief to be detained for personal irregularities. The Seoul Central District Court approved the prosecutions request for an arrest warrant for Won, former director of the National Intelligence Service (NIS), over allegations that he took 160 million won (142,159 U.S. dollars) bribes from a construction company in return for peddling influence. Ahead of Won, five of the eight former NIS chiefs were investigated or indicted by the prosecution since 1998, when the former Agency for National Security Planning was reformed to become the NIS. All of them faced charges of power abuse, not for personal irregularities.
Allegedly, Won received the money from Hwang Bo-yeon, head of now-bankrupt Hwangbo Construction Co., in exchange for the spy chiefs influence in helping the company win government permits to build a facility for Homeplus, a major local retailer. The facility was built on land owned by the Korea Forest Service (KFS), a government agency in charge of maintaining the countrys forest lands. The KFS initially opposed the construction project, citing concerns over damaging state-owned forest and natural environment. Nine months later, the agency changed its position and approved the project. Lee Seung-han, the CEO of Homeplus, made a presentation on the project to Chung Kwang-soo, the then minister of KFS. The prosecution believes that Won was involved in the process. The arrest of a former chief of the intelligence agency on graft charges has given the entire NIS a bad name.
Won has already been accused of having the NIS intervening in last years presidential election by ordering NIS agents to post a slew of comments on the Internet on sensitive political issues in order to sway public opinion in favor of the ruling party candidate and is subject to a parliamentary investigation into the scandal. The graft charges are separate from the alleged violation of the NIS law and the election law. It is hard to believe the oppositions claim that the online comments turned the table in the presidential race. However, the public has the right to know how deeply Won and the NIS were involved in politics.
Reportedly, the former spy chief became very close friends with Hwang, who had no connections with Won while serving as an employee of the Seoul Metropolitan Government. Even when Won was the NIS director, the two and their spouses reportedly went on overseas trips and played golf together. No one would view such things as justifiable conduct.
The scandal about the NISs online comments operations is connected with the allegation that Won, an amateur in the intelligence field, operated the NIS solely out of loyalty to former President Lee Myung-bak, failing to tell the difference from national security and regime security. Who put the NIS into such disgrace? Won and former President Lee should reflect on themselves first.