SEOUL, Nov. 6 (Yonhap) -- A special military probe team has indicted four senior uniformed officers, including two general-grade ones, for their alleged role in the illicit surveillance of family members of victims in a 2014 ferry disaster, investigators said Tuesday.
The team wrapped up its monthslong inquiry into the allegations that officials of the now-defunct Defense Security Command (DSC) monitored the victims' families to minimize the political impact of the tragic incident that laid bare the government's ineptitude in crisis management.
Investigators indicted and detained a major general, a brigadier general and a colonel for issuing directives for the purported surveillance. Another colonel was also indicted without detention on the same charges.
The ferry Sewol sank in waters off the country's southwestern island of Jindo on April 16, 2014, leaving more than 300 passengers dead or missing. The bereaved families' criticism of the government's response to the disaster worsened public sentiment against the then-Park Geun-hye administration.
"The DSC formed and operated a task force to seek an exit from the situation and restore support ratings (of the then-president) as the 'ferry Sewol situation' was unfolding unfavorably for the then-government ahead of key political events such as the June 4 local elections," the probe team said in a press release.
Investigators suspect that operatives from the task force, some disguised as the victims' families, conducted the surveillance online and offline and collected intelligence on the families. The operatives also shared their surveillance plans with then-presidential aides.
"It is a case in which the DSC illicitly surveilled civilians, including the families of the ferry victims, in an organized manner, under the name of aiding the (president's) governing authority," the investigation team said.
Investigators also found that the DSC formed a separate team to support operations to arrest Yoo Byeong-eon, a former chief of Semo Group who was then suspected of being linked to the operator of the Sewol.
The team allegedly mobilized illicit eavesdropping equipment. Related to this charge, a brigadier general has been indicted without detention.
Separately, the probe team has been looking into the charges that the DSC drew up a document on the possible imposition of martial law to quash anti-government protests last year.
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