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(LEAD) No surveillance of civilians under Moon gov't: presidential aide

All News 13:36 December 31, 2018

(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead; UPDATES with more info throughout)

SEOUL, Dec. 31 (Yonhap) -- President Moon Jae-in's chief of staff said Monday that the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae has not surveilled civilians for political purposes, shrugging off a former investigator's spying claim.

Controversy has flared up after Kim Tae-woo, a former special investigator at the presidential office, made the revelation that he had collected information, including info about civilians and former bureaucrats who should not be subject to Cheong Wa Dae surveillance.

Chief of Staff Im Jong-seok and Cho Kuk, Moon's top secretary for civil affairs, rejected his claim at a meeting of the parliamentary steering committee.

It marked the first time since 2006 that a presidential secretary for civil affairs spoke at the parliamentary panel that oversees the operation of the presidential office.

"There has been no surveillance (of civilians) for political purposes under the Moon Jae-in administration," Im told lawmakers.

"I feel unlimited responsibility. I will take responsibility for this as the chief of staff at any time," he said, apologizing to the public.

Kim is under investigation on suspicions that he leaked to local media outlets classified information that he had collected while working as a special inspector between July last year and November this year.

Last month, Cheong Wa Dae returned him to his original post at the prosecution over allegations that he sought to influence a police probe into a corruption case involving his acquaintance.

Since then, he has released various information he claims to have obtained, claiming that he surveilled civilians on direct orders from his superiors at Cheong Wa Dae, an accusation strongly denied by the presidential office.

A special inspector team to which Kim was dispatched from the prosecution is under Cho's supervision. President Moon earlier ordered Cho to draw up measures to strengthen discipline at the presidential office.

Cho told lawmakers that the current controversy is nothing more than the outcome of Kim's deviant act.

"The presidential civil affairs team under the Moon government has not surveilled civilians or drawn up blacklists (of people critical of the government unlike other previous administrations," he said.

Surveillance of civilians has been a sensitive issue in South Korea as former conservative governments were previously blamed for illegally spying on citizens for political purposes.

Last week, the prosecution's internal review board called for the dismissal of Kim.

The main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) said that the core part of the controversy is that the liberal Moon government surveilled civilians. The party called on Cho to step down.

But the ruling Democratic Party (DP) slammed the LKP for using the issue as a political offensive, saying that Kim's claim is groundless.

President Moon Jae-in's chief of staff Im Jong-seok (L) and Cho Kuk, the top secretary for civil affairs, talk to each other at a meeting of the parliamentary steering committee on Dec. 31, 2018, over the presidential office's alleged surveillance of civilians. (Yonhap)

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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