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(3rd LD) Prosecution raids Cheong Wa Dae office over probe into ex-vice mayor

All Headlines 19:02 December 04, 2019

(ATTN: UPDATES with Cheong Wa Dae's response in first 6 paras; ADDS background info in 13th para)

SEOUL, Dec. 4 (Yonhap) -- The office of President Moon Jae-in confirmed Wednesday that state prosecutors have executed a court-issued search warrant for Cheong Wa Dae in connection with their probe into an alleged cover-up of an inspection into an ex-vice mayor who faces bribery charges.

A team of investigators from the Seoul Eastern District Prosecutors Office conducted the operation and Moon's office "faithfully cooperated" with it in accordance with relevant procedures, according to Cheong Wa Dae spokesperson, Ko Min-jung.

Cheong Wa Dae submitted some documents and other materials in consultation with the prosecution, she told reporters.

Ko indicated that the investigators had received them right in front of the presidential compound, instead of entering and ransacking it.

It is impossible to actually raid Cheong Wa Dae as part of a criminal investigation and there has been no precedent for it, she pointed out.

The prosecution's operation began at 11:30 a.m. after securing a warrant from a court, an informed source said.

Cheong Wa Dae spokesperson Ko Min-jung speaks at a press briefing on Dec. 4, 2019. (Yonhap)

Prosecutors are seeking to obtain evidence for its probe into why a special inspection into Yoo Jae-soo, the former vice mayor of Busan, was abruptly suspended.

The 55-year-old Yoo was under surveillance by a special inspection team of Cheong Wa Dae over allegations that he took bribes from businesses when he served as director-general of the Financial Services Commission in 2017.

But Yoo avoided punishment for an unknown reason and became Busan's vice mayor in charge of economic affairs in 2018.

The raid appears to zero in on Cho Kuk, the former top presidential secretary for civil affairs and disgraced former justice minister who is under a separate prosecution probe over family-related allegations.

The prosecution is looking into allegations that Cho and other former Cheong Wa Dae officials may be behind the sudden end of the inspection into Yoo.

In February, a former special inspector filed a petition with the prosecution against Cho, claiming the surveillance was suspended despite alleged wrongdoings by Yoo.

In December 2018, state prosecutors took similar action against Cheong Wa Dae to secure evidence from the office of a special inspection team over presidential aides' alleged illegal surveillance of civilians.

Baek Won-woo, former presidential secretary for civil affairs, is among the figures believed to have played a role in a decision to end the inspection into Yoo.

Baek is separately under scrutiny by the prosecution over allegations that he provided to police tip-offs of alleged wrongdoings by aides of an opposition party candidate to influence last year's local elections.

Reporters stand by in front of the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul on Dec. 4, 2019, as the prosecution launched a raid on a Cheong Wa Dae office for a probe into an ex-vice mayor. (Yonhap)

At issue is whether Cheong Wa Dae played a role in a police investigation into corruption-related suspicions involving one of the closest aides to Kim Gi-hyeon, who was Ulsan mayor and seeking reelection last year.

His election rival was Song Cheol-ho of the ruling Democratic Party, a longtime friend of Moon. Song eventually won the June 13 election.

Kim claimed publicly that the Ulsan Metropolitan Police Agency deliberately raided his office a few months ahead of the election, with Cheong Wa Dae behind the move.

The scandal, featuring a flood of media-driven allegations, took a new twist last weekend when a former Cheong Wa Dae inspector who was a member of Baek's "special squad" was found dead in what's presumed to be a suicide.

Some news outlets have churned out reports that his death may be linked with the ongoing probe into the Ulsan election suspicions.

Cheong Wa Dae, however, flatly dismissed such allegations as groundless, citing the outcome of its own internal probe.

It has been confirmed that the deceased inspector has nothing to do with the creation of a Cheong Wa Dae report on the alleged corruption involving Kim's confidant, Ko said at a press briefing.

It was written by a different Cheong Wa Dae staffer on a tipoff from an acquaintance and delivered to Baek, she said.


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