Yoon accuses National Intelligence Service of political meddling
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In a meeting with reporters following a youth forum in Seoul's Seodaemun District on Sunday, Yoon said that Park and Cho's meeting "doesn't make sense, even if they were friends, given [Park's] position as NIS director."
Yoon had initially denied the accusations themselves, saying, "Are there even any documents showing that Son did something like this? We need to see the documents before we talk about this."
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Yoon Seok-youl, a leading presidential candidate for the opposition, has been struggling to combat allegations that he abused his authority while serving as South Korea’s prosecutor general. Now he has launched a counterattack by accusing the National Intelligence Service (NIS) of meddling in politics. Yoon has zeroed in on a meeting in August between NIS Director Park Jie-won and Cho Seong-eun, former chair of the United Future Party’s election committee and the person who raised allegations about the prosecution service.
In a meeting with reporters following a youth forum in Seoul’s Seodaemun District on Sunday, Yoon said that Park and Cho’s meeting “doesn’t make sense, even if they were friends, given [Park’s] position as NIS director.”
“In my opinion, it wasn’t normal,” he added.
“I see this as political maneuvering since I didn’t do [what I’m accused of], which in fact is completely implausible. We need to think about who stands to gain and who stands to lose here, politically speaking,” Yoon said.
Yoon also voiced his irritation with an explanation offered by the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials (CIO) on Sunday about an investigator’s search for “Oh-soo” in the private computer of an aide to Kim Woong during a raid of Kim’s office on Friday. The CIO said that the investigator had been searching not for Kim Oh-soo, the current prosecutor general, but for Kwon Oh-soo, CEO of Deutsch Motors.
“Their announcement makes it look like my wife was involved in stock manipulation at Deutsch Motors. They’ve got it all wrong,” Yoon said.
On Sunday, Yoon also met with Choe Jae-hyeong, former chairman of Korea’s Board of Audit and Inspection, and promised that the two would make a joint response to alleged political maneuvering, including the alleged meddling in the presidential election by the NIS.
A special committee organized by Yoon’s campaign to get to the bottom of the alleged political maneuvering convened for the first time on Sunday to discuss countermeasures and accused the NIS of engaging in political skullduggery.
“Tomorrow, we’ll lodge a criminal complaint against Park on charges of violating the National Intelligence Service Act and the Public Official Election Act. This incident can only be regarded as a political scheme cooked up by Park and Cho, his political protegee, in order to torpedo the candidacy of the opposition frontrunner in the Republic of Korea’s presidential election,” said Chang Je-won, a lawmaker and head of the “situation room” for Yoon’s campaign, during a press conference.
Yoon and his allies have also focused on creating distance with Son Jun-seong, a prosecutor who has been identified as the person who delivered criminal complaints about figures in and tied to the ruling party.
Yoon had initially denied the accusations themselves, saying, “Are there even any documents showing that Son did something like this? We need to see the documents before we talk about this.”
But on Thursday, he began asserting that Son had acted on his own initiative. “[Son] may have taken actions and exchanged documents with people. Is he supposed to get the prosecutor general’s approval for everything he does?”
Lee Sang-il, head of communications for Yoon’s camp, made an appearance on “Late Night Debate” on TV’s KBS on Saturday evening.
“During the personnel reshuffle in January 2020, Yoon wanted to keep Kim Yu-cheol [as chief of investigative information policy], but the person who overturned his wishes and placed Son Jun-seong in that position was then Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae,” Lee said.
In a reorganization of organizational titles in August 2020, Son’s position as chief of investigative information policy was downgraded from the rank of vice minister to department head. Even so, Son continued to enjoy Yoon’s confidence, sources in the prosecution service said.
“It’s true that Son wasn’t the person whom Yoon wanted to serve as head of investigative information policy in the personnel reshuffle in January 2020. But Son and Yoon’s relationship can be gauged from the fact that Kim Woong sent Son a message encouraging him to ‘be useful to Yoon in his difficult position.’ At the least, we can assume that Son tried to help Yoon,” a senior member of the prosecution service told the Hankyoreh.
“At the time, Yoon didn’t talk a lot with the department heads at the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office, but he did have a speaking relationship with Son. Right now, a lot of people in the prosecution service are shocked that Yoon seems to be attempting to cut Son off [to minimize damage to himself],” another source in the prosecution service said.
The People Power Party (PPP) is backing Yoon’s campaign as it attempts to identify Park Jie-won, the NIS director, as the source of the allegations against the prosecution service.
“The two weren’t just ordinary acquaintances — they had a special and very close relationship,” said PPP floor leader Kim Gi-hyeon, referring to Park and Cho, during an emergency press conference at the National Assembly on Sunday. Kim said that Cho may have discussed the allegations with Park before they were reported in the press.
Kim also wanted to know who else had been present at Park and Cho’s dinner on Aug. 11 at a hotel in Seoul, and whether the bill had been paid out of pocket or footed by the government.
“This could very well turn into a massive scandal reminiscent of the worst examples of political and electoral meddling in the past,” he said.
The ruling party is working to quash the opposition’s counterattack by reiterating that the key question is whether Yoon is implicated in the prosecution service’s alleged meddling in the election.
“This is a bizarre attempt to muddy the waters by dragging in the director of the National Intelligence Service, who has absolutely nothing to do with the prosecutors’ politically motivated behavior in the criminal complaint scandal. This scandal can no longer be covered up through staying mum, passing the buck, or muddying the waters. They need to submit to the investigation with bravery and sincerity,” Lee So-young, spokesperson for the Democratic Party, wrote in a position statement on Sunday.
By Jang Na-rye, staff reporter
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