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(3rd LD) Ulsan vice mayor summoned in election-meddling probe

National 17:21 December 06, 2019

(ATTN: ADDS details in last two paras)

SEOUL/ULSAN, Dec. 6 (Yonhap) -- An Ulsan vice mayor was questioned by prosecutors Friday as part of their widening probe into an alleged election-meddling row involving officials at the presidential office.

Song Byung-gi, the city's vice mayor in charge of economic affairs, attended a questioning at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors Office in southern Seoul. He was reportedly summoned to testify as a witness.

Song told journalists that he came to the prosecution office in the morning and that the probe "has no relation whatsoever to Cheong Wa Dae," adding he has never visited the presidential office in relation to the allegations.

The summoning came on the same day investigators were dispatched to Ulsan, 414 kilometers southeast of Seoul, to search the vice mayor's office, car and residence after he was found to have tipped off a former Cheong Wa Dae official on bribery allegations involving former Ulsan Mayor Kim Gi-hyeon's confidants.

Public servants and police at Ulsan City Hall stand in front of Ulsan Vice Mayor Song Byung-gi's office as investigators from the Seoul Central District Prosecutors Office carried out a raid on Dec. 6, 2019. (Yonhap)

Kim, who was then seeking reelection as mayor in the June 2018 elections as a candidate of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, lost the race to current mayor, Song Cheol-ho of the ruling Democratic Party, a longtime friend of President Moon Jae-in.

The case blew up into a massive investigation after Kim publicly claimed that the Ulsan Metropolitan Police Agency deliberately raided his office a few months ahead of the election with the presidential office behind the move.

Song, who is considered a close aide of the incumbent mayor, was called in during the Ulsan police probe to testify, raising allegations that his tipoff may have been politically motivated.

He has, however, denied such allegations. In a press conference on Thursday, he said "pledging on (my) conscience, it is completely untrue that (I) made the tipoff over former mayor Kim's bribery allegations with the mayoral election in mind."

Meanwhile, prosecutors on Thursday summoned the former Cheong Wa Dae official, surnamed Moon, to probe whether Moon demanded the tipoff and whether it was further fabricated.

They are also looking into whether other officials intervened in the process and how the tipoff was delivered to the Ulsan Metropolitan Police Agency via the Cheong Wa Dae offices for civil affairs and anti-corruption and the National Police Agency.

The presidential office flatly denied all allegations of election-meddling. Regarding reports of the vice mayor meeting the former Cheong Wa Dae official, the presidential office said the meeting, aimed at explaining the president's policies, was within the official's usual duties.

Song Byung-gi, Ulsan vice mayor for economic affairs, speaks on ongoing allegations involving his tipoff in a press conference at Ulsan City Hall on Dec. 5, 2019. (Yonhap)


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