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(2nd LD) CIO launches probe into spy chief over alleged meddling in presidential election politics

All News 15:17 October 06, 2021

(ATTN: UPDATES with details of Park's case, end of raid, background in paras 5-7, 10-11, 15-18)

SEOUL, Oct. 6 (Yonhap) -- The state anti-corruption investigation office said Wednesday it has opened a probe into National Intelligence Service Director Park Jie-won over allegations of political meddling ahead of the March presidential race.

The Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials (CIO) announced that it booked Park on Tuesday on charges of allegedly violating the National Intelligence Service Act and the Public Official Election Act.

Park has been accused by Yoon Seok-youl, former prosecutor general and a leading presidential contender of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP), and his campaign team of colluding with two others in tipping off online news outlet Newsverse for a series of supposed hit pieces on Yoon.

This file photo shows National Intelligence Service Director Park Jie-won. (Yonhap)

The outlet has reported a series of stories alleging that a prosecutor previously under Yoon secretly asked the PPP, just before the general elections in April 2020, to file a complaint against three pro-government figures for their alleged involvement in damning news reports about Yoon's wife.

Yoon's team filed a complaint with the CIO on Sept. 13 against Park, the whistleblower who communicated with Newsverse and an unidentified third person.

Two days later, they lodged an additional complaint against Park, on charges of election meddling, after he spoke in an interview about a past case in which Yoon is alleged to have given favors to a close aide's brother.

The CIO has not booked the whistleblower or the unidentified person.

In a related but separate case, a team of prosecutors and investigators from the CIO raided the office of PPP Rep. Jeong Jeom-sig on Wednesday.

Jeong, a former prosecutor, is suspected of having handled the draft of the complaint while serving as chief of the PPP's legal advisory team at the time.

The search lasted for about an hour and a half. Jeong later told reporters that the team left "empty-handed" after failing to secure the documents they had come to find. "This case has nothing to do with me," he said.

PPP floor leader Rep. Kim Gi-hyeon and other leaders of the party rushed to Jeong's office to protest the raid.

"I'm appalled that the CIO is taking such ridiculous actions," Kim told reporters, insisting there is no truth to the alleged complaint against pro-government figures.

He said prosecutors should instead be searching the offices and locations connected to a separate massive scandal surrounding a land development project conducted during ruling Democratic Party presidential contender Lee Jae-myung's time as mayor of Seongnam.

The CIO also sent a team to search the Seoul office of a lawyer that handled a separate complaint that appeared similar to the one Yoon has been accused of overseeing.

With the new investigation into NIS Director Park, the CIO is now looking simultaneously at allegations that the prosecution under Yoon meddled in politics and charges that Park plotted to leak the story to the press.

With the two cases intertwined, legal observers said one side will likely end up facing charges.

Some raised questions about whether the two investigations will proceed at the same pace, given that the CIO began its probe of Yoon and related figures almost a month earlier.

This Oct. 6, 2021, photo, provided by the National Assembly's photo press corps, shows CIO investigators searching the Seoul office of Rep. Jeong Jeom-sig of the People Power Party. (Yonhap)


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