SOUTH KOREA: Korean style of ‘Watergate Scandal’? 

After the case of Mr. Kim Jong-Ik, a victim of illegal surveillance by the Prime Minister’s Office and exposure by a former official of the Office (for details: AHRC-STM-066-2012), more illegal surveillance material conducted by the Office has been reported to the public. The contents of illegal surveillance exposed by the new trade union of the Korean Broadcasting Corporation (KBS) and other organisations, it appears that the unlawful surveillance by the Prime Minister’s Office had been systematically and widely carried out regardless of the status of person targeted.

According to the materials released to the public, the victims of this unlawful surveillance are former and incumbent higher ranking public officials, legislators in particular who oppose the government policy, various trade unions, academics who write critical articles to the government policy, high ranking police officials including police chiefs, trade unions of broadcasting corporations and personnel in newspapers that are critical to the government’s policy. This is however, only a small part collected by one person of the Office while other materials are believed to have been destroyed.

It is reported that the information through illegal surveillance by the Office had been used to make the victims comply with or follow the government policies or pressurise them for to voluntarily resign from their position at public and private bodies. In addition, individuals were also targeted for this illegal surveillance. The case of Mr, Kim Jong-Ik, former CEO of private body, is indicative. Here, strategic plans by the Office were setup to remove him from his position through provocation, intimidation or making his opponent file a complaint for investigation. There were also other circumstances where the Presidential Office was involved in directing the Prosecution Service in cases that are critical to the government. The information also included the various private relationships of victims and it was used against the victims.

It is the ordinary work of the Office to investigate any public officials on allegations of corruption. However, the materials released are far beyond of the work of the Office. The Office was in fact doing the role of the National Intelligence. Whenever some unreasonable legal proceedings including investigation and prosecution or decision by the court made, a rumour was heard that intelligent agencies used information critical to the integrity of the person being handled in negotiation for such legal proceedings. The materials demonstrate that information by the Office was used to such extent.

Another serious concern was raised why the prosecution service failed to conduct a thorough investigation on this case when it was first made known to the public in 2010. According to the media, the prosecution service was fully aware of all these materials but submitted limited evidence before the court which was only necessary for indictment for those who were involved. However, no investigation was carried out to the illegal surveillance critical to the current government. The question should be rather asked what kind of negotiations or instructions were made among state institutions among the Presidential Office, Prime Minister’s Office, Ministry of Justice and Prosecution Service.

Before these materials are released, the Prosecution Service has been conducting an investigation into this case. Unfortunately, the government authorities in particular still believe that the investigation will be conducted impartially despite the fact that people no longer trust the state institutions. It is believed that the Presidential Office has more opportunities to negotiate with the Prosecution Service in private rather than public. People should question what kind of system should be established to guarantee ‘impartial and independent’ investigating institution from political interference. For this reason, it seems necessary that the public hearing at the National Assembly should be conducted to understand the current practice of state institutions. Unless this issue is not properly taken up, such unlawful practice will continue with punishment of few people involved with impunity of those who actually instructed or ordered as experience shows (AHRC-STM-073-2012).

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-076-2012
Countries : South Korea,