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(2nd LD) Opposition party member arrested over fake tip-off scandal

All Headlines 10:56 July 12, 2017

(ATTN: UPDATES with parties' reactions in paras 3, 14-15)

SEOUL, July 12 (Yonhap) -- A former senior member of the minor opposition People's Party was arrested Wednesday over his suspected role in fabricating evidence for a negative campaign against President Moon Jae-in during the May presidential election.

The Seoul Central District Court approved the prosecution's request for a warrant to detain Lee Jun-seo, upholding its claim that he may destroy evidence and is a flight risk. His arrest is expected to spur the investigation into whether any other party leaders were involved.

The embattled party criticized his arrest, claiming the prosecution is leading a "politically motivated" probe. It also repeated its call to enact an independent counsel probe into the case, which the ruling party dismissed as an attempt to mitigate public criticism.

Lee didn't answer a barrage of questions from waiting reporters as he emerged from the prosecutors' office before being whisked away in a car to the Seoul Detention Center.

Lee, then a supreme council member of the party, is accused of violating the election law by providing the party with unverified information about an illicit hiring of Moon Joon-yong, the president's son, by a public agency in 2006.

In the lead-up to the May 9 election, the People's Party and its candidate, Ahn Cheol-soo, raised an allegation that the junior Moon landed a full-time job at the Korea Employment Information Service based on his father's influence as a presidential secretary.

The party used it as part of its smear campaign against Moon, then front-runner of the Democratic Party. Moon won the election.

Lee, 40, has denied any wrongdoing.

The prosecution arrested Lee You-mi, a former campaigner for Ahn, after she confessed to doctoring the tip-off. She said she had her brother pose as a friend of the junior Moon and make the revelation in an audio file which she later relayed to Lee Jun-seo via a mobile messenger.

The court, however, rejected an arrest warrant for Lee You-mi's brother, saying that in light of the degree of his suspected involvement and his attitude during the investigation, he is unlikely to destroy evidence or flee.

The prosecution has centered the probe on Lee, believing that he is the mastermind behind the crime, practically encouraging Lee You-mi to concoct the tip-off and deliberately overlooking the verification process.

Although the prosecution has yet to substantiate that he instructed Lee You-mi to create the false story about Moon, they found evidence that he coaxed her into bringing in "decisive proof" in return for promising her a position in the party.

He also allegedly told the party that the tip-off was "100 percent true" and didn't take any action when Lee You-mi told him it was a fabrication.

The scandal has driven the People's Party into the worst crisis since its launch early last year under the banner of "new and clear politics." The party conducted its own probe soon after the scandal broke and concluded that its top officials were not involved in the scheme.

Meanwhile, opposition parties ratcheted up their demand for a special probe into the case.

The main opposition Liberty Korea Party demanded a parliamentary inquiry into the case as well, stressing what matters is not the fabrication allegation itself, but the suspected special treatment to Moon's son in the employment process.

Lee Jun-seo, a former senior member of the minor opposition People's Party suspected of taking part in a fake tip-off scandal, is surrounded by reporters asking questions as he enters the courthouse for a hearing on his arrest warrant in Seoul on July 11, 2017. (Yonhap)

elly@yna.co.kr
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