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(LEAD) Prosecutors indict former environment minister, former Moon secretary in power abuse scandal

National 17:15 April 25, 2019

(ATTN: UPDATES with indictment and more details in paras 3-9, 11; CHANGES headline)

SEOUL, April 25 (Yonhap) -- Seoul prosecutors said Thursday they referred a former environment minister and a former presidential secretary to trial on charges of abusing their power by unlawfully intervening in personnel reshuffles at a state-run corporation.

The Seoul Eastern District Court said former Environment Minister Kim Eun-kyung and Shin Mi-sook, former presidential secretary for balanced personnel affairs, were indicted without detention on the day on charges of power abuse and obstruction of business.

(LEAD) Prosecutors indict former environment minister, former Moon secretary in power abuse scandal - 1

Kim and Shin are accused of forcing 15 executives at public institutions affiliated with the environment ministry, who were appointed by the administration of ousted President Park Geun-hye, to resign between December 2017 and January 2019 and of receiving resignations from 13 of them.

Prosecutors said they have secured testimonies alleging that ranking ministry officials exerted pressure on defiant executives to tender their resignations by saying, for instance, that their subordinates could be punished.

Prosecutors also said the ministry provided pre-interview documents only to executive applicants recommended by the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae and the minister in the process of filling 17 executive posts at six public institutions.

In particular, a standing auditor of the Korea Environment Corp. (KEC), also appointed by the Park administration, was forced to submit his resignation after the inauguration of the Moon Jae-in administration in May 2017.

As the auditor refused to comply, Kim and Shin allegedly ordered a special inspection into him. After the auditor eventually quit under pressure in February last year, they allegedly sought to appoint a figure known to be friendly to the Moon government as his successor.

Allegations also arose that the environment ministry had committed some irregularities in the process of selecting and screening new auditor candidates at the KEC after the pro-Moon figure was dropped from the screening process.

In January this year, another man who formerly served in the Roh Moo-hyun Foundation was appointed as a new auditor of the KEC, while the pro-Moon figure was named to head a recycling company set up by a ministry-affiliated institution.

Kim led the environment ministry from July 2017 to November 2018. Prosecutors asked for a warrant to arrest Kim last month but a Seoul court rejected the request.

According to prosecutors, Shin has denied the charges against her, saying she handled all personnel affairs normally and cannot remember all the details of the past.

Shin recently offered to resign from her post at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae and Moon accepted her resignation on Thursday.

Prosecutors suspect that Shin had summoned a vice environment minister to Cheong Wa Dae a year or so ago to demand an explanation on the new auditor selection process in an apparent move to exert undue influence.

The investigation into the allegations was launched last December after the main opposition Liberty Korea Party filed a complaint, accusing top presidential aides of unlawfully interfering in personnel reshuffles at the environment ministry-affiliated agency.

However, prosecutors said they have decided not to seek charges against senior presidential secretary for civil affairs Cho Kuk, former presidential chief of staff Im Jong-seok and two other lower-ranking officials -- Park Hyoung-chul, a presidential secretary for anti-corruption, and Lee In-geol, a former head of Cheong Wa Dae's special inspection team.


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