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KOREA: Prosecution to probe those behind illegal bugging unit

Former top NIS officials, including ex-chief Chun Young-taek, will be interrogated by prosecution

The Korea Herald
Tuesday, August 16, 2005

By Jin Hyun-joo
Seoul -- The prosecution plans to probe those who are alleged to be behind the past actions of a disbanded illegal bugging unit at the spy agency, following the National Intelligence Service's confession earlier this month that it illegally eavesdropped on conversations between influential figures up until March 2002.

Prosecutors plan to summon top intelligence officials who were allegedly informed of the contents of bugged conversations, following the questioning of two spy agents last week.

They will delve into whether a former intelligence chief was aware of wiretapped discussions and privately used the secret information given to him.

The prosecution will summon Chun Young-taek, a former intelligence chief who directed the spy agency in 1999.

Chun will be also asked about the details of how the spy agency retrieved bugged tapes from former wiretapping team leader Kong Un-young who leaked the tape to a third party. Lee Gun-mo, a then high ranking official, will be questioned in advance about recovering the tapes in 1999 from Kong who was fired in 1998.

Kong handed over the tapes to Korean-American businessman William Park, asking him to pull strings with a top government official and help Kong in being reinstated.

Park will be prosecuted this week on charges of leaking an illegally recorded conversation that allegedly happened in 1997 between a senior executive of the Samsung Group and the then publisher of the leading JoongAng Ilbo newspaper, who are said to have discussed plans to give illegal campaign funds to presidential election candidates.

Then publisher of the JoongAng Ilbo, Hong Seok-hyun, has tendered his resignation from his current Washington post as Korea's ambassador to the United States, amid the wiretapping scandal which erupted in late July.

Those who resumed the operations of the wiretapping team, "Mirim," will also be investigated. Accordingly, the prosecution will summon Oh Chung-so, a former high-ranking official of the agency who was allegedly deeply involved in the reconstruction of the unit in 1994 after it was inactive for nearly one year.

Investigators also plan to seize bugging gadgets and related documents at the NIS to probe whether the agency carried out eavesdropping operations on cellular phones, where previously there had been debate whether or not this was possible.

The action follows the agency's interim report admitting that it is technically possible to bug calls between mobile phones.