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Prosecution probes reporter's alleged blackmail of inmate to dig up info on liberal pundit

All News 22:37 April 17, 2020

SEOUL, April 17 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's chief prosecutor on Friday ordered an investigation into allegations that a TV reporter pressured a jailed financier to divulge details of corruption by a pro-government commentator, leveraging his ties with a senior prosecutor deemed powerful enough to influence the inmate's case.

Prosecutor-General Yoon Seok-youl ordered the Seoul Central District Prosecutors Office to handle two complaints related to the incident, which was first reported by the broadcaster MBC late last month, prosecution officials said.

MBC reported that a journalist with Channel A, a cable channel, coaxed and blackmailed the businessman, named Lee Cheol, to tip him off about corruption involving Rhyu Si-min, a popular writer and liberal pundit close to President Moon Jae-in.

Lee, formerly the largest shareholder of ShillaJen, a struggling biotech company, was sentenced to 12 years for fraud last year and got an additional 2 1/2 years in February.

The reporter was digging up rumors that Lee paid inappropriately large lecture fees to Rhyu a few years ago. Rhyu, chief of a public foundation in memory of former President Roh Moo-hyun, denied that claim.

MBC unveiled the Channel A reporter's letters to Lee and a recorded conversation between the journalist and an associate of Lee, in which he was warning Lee to cooperate or face a longer prison sentence, further financial losses and new charges against his family.

Prosecutor-General Yoon Seok-youl, provided by Yonhap News Television

The Lee associate told MBC that the reporter offered to use his close ties with the prosecution to help Lee and his family avoid more punishment.

The reporter played to him a recorded talk with a senior prosecutor, identified only as "the closest aide" to chief prosecutor Yun, to show his connection with the prosecution. The senior prosecutor denied he had such a conversation.

MBC claimed the journalist and the prosecution plotted to deal a blow to the ruling Democratic Party (DP) ahead of the April 15 parliamentary elections.

The Moon administration and the DP have pushed to transfer some investigative powers from the prosecution to police and establish a separate body to probe corruption and power abuses by high-level officials, including prosecutors.

After the MBC report, a media NGO filed a complaint with the Seoul Central District Prosecutors Office, accusing the reporter and the prosecutor of blackmailing.

Separately, Choi Kyoung-hwan, a former finance minister, filed a complaint with the Seoul Southern District Prosecutors Office, claiming MBC defamed him by reporting that he invested huge sums in Lee's once high-flying biotech firm.

After briefed on internal inspections into the cases, Yun ordered the Central Prosecutors Office to probe both cases thoroughly, officials said.

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