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KOREA: Prosecution to examine all wiretapped tapes kept by NIS

Prosecutor-General Kim Jong-bin announces intention to fully inspect spy agency's wiretapped tapes with separate investigations to follow

The Korea Herald
Thursday, July 28, 2005
By Shin Hae-in

Seoul -- The prosecution will ask the nation's spy agency to handover any wiretapped tapes in its possession to enable a thorough enquiry into the current alleged illegal eavesdropping scandal, Prosecutor-General Kim Jong-bin said yesterday.

In order to help clearly establish the scope of the probe, state prosecutors will today question representatives of the People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, a progressive civic group that requested the prosecution investigation.

"We currently do not have a clear idea on the existence or contents of the wiretapped tapes. Since some reports suspect that the disclosed tape may have been fabricated, we concluded that it was best to ask for cooperation from the National Intelligence Service in order to examine all tapes it possesses," said Kim.

While seeking for cooperation from the NIS, the prosecution will proceed with separate investigations each calling upon intelligence officials if necessary, Kim added.

Kim's remarks came a day after the prosecution launched an investigation into an alleged illegal eavesdropping campaign by the intelligence agency as well as allegations that the giant Samsung Group provided illegal campaign funds to political heavyweights and influential government officials during the 1997 presidential polls.

Simultaneously, the spy agency is also inspecting the scandal in order to try and reveal facts about the alleged illegal wiretappings.

Last week, the local MBC TV station alleged in a report that the South Korean Ambassador to the United States, Hong Seok-hyun, and a Samsung Group top executive discussed providing illegal political funds to presidential candidates and prosecutors in 1997.

The local broadcaster said their reports are based on clandestine documents and a recorded tape made by the spy agency's wiretapping team, called "Mirim."

Former spy Kong Un-yong who attempted suicide Tuesday, allegedly led the spy agency's special wiretapping unit.

Kong who led the Mirim team from 1994 to early 1998, said last week that the bugged conversation disclosed between Hong and Samsung was only the "tip of the iceberg," and that the NIS has about 200 tapes which contain dialogues between powerful politicians, government officials and reporters recorded by his team.

Meanwhile, the main opposition Grand National Party yesterday pressed the ruling camp for full cooperation by calling for an independent counsel to investigate the case. The GNP appears to be intensifying its suspicions about Roh Moo-hyun's administration of pursuing political motives to bring the GNP down with tapes that target its former lawmakers.

Spearheaded by the GNP, opposition parties have been calling for an independent counsel's probe, claiming the prosecution would have limitations in getting to the bottom of the scandal given that many prosecutors and intelligence officials are also implicated in the case. In the taped conversation, it is alleged that the two men discussed plans to provide illicit money to some senior prosecutors.

The ruling Uri Party however, refused an immediate call for special investigations, and accused the GNP of trying to hide its wrongdoings by avoiding the prosecution's investigations.

Justice Minister Chun Jung-bae also made it clear yesterday that he is opposed to the opposition's call for an independent counsel, asserting that all suspicions surrounding the prosecutors will come to light through thorough investigations--even if some presently serving prosecutors are involved.

"It is not the right time to call on an independent counsel," he said. "The prosecutors suspected of receiving bribery are mostly retired, and even if some sitting officials are suspected of involvement, it does not mean that the whole prosecution's probe will be unfair and insufficient."

On Tuesday, Kong, the leader of wiretapping squad, attempted to kill himself in his residence in Bundang, south of Seoul. He is recovering after an operation, hospital officials said.

In a written memo he made before his suicide attempt, Kong said that he has kept the recorded conversations to himself since 1994 to prepare for any contingency.

Shortly after the 1997 presidential election, Kong said he passed secret material over to a man whom Kong identified only by his family name Park. Park was introduced by a former colleague, identified only as Mr. A in Kong's memo. It was not immediately clear whether Kong gave the tape or the documents to Park.

According to the memo, Park said he would negotiate over the secret conversations with the Samsung Group.

But Kong said he later received the content back, after Park unsuccessfully negotiated with the Samsung Group.

A son of Park later told his colleague Mr. A that an MBC reporter tried to contact Park over the tape and that's how he thought Park could be the one who leaked the information.

NIS investigators apprehended Kong's collaborator Park at Incheon International Airport Wednesday while he was trying to leave for the United States with two MBC journalists.