Blue House, it’s your turn to explain

Disclaimer: The following is a totally unauthoritative personal translation of an article appeared in <Hankyoreh21> on Mar. 12, 2012, reporting illegal civilian inspection by the Public Service Ethics Supporter Office of Prime Minister’s Office. The incident itself and the following coverup effort that is being leaked bit by bit now through testimonies or court records of those involved reveal how low a self-proclaimed ‘ethically perfect’ government can fall. The volatility of the issue is, in fact, hard to fathom. In a country where rule-by-law is firmly established, mere the fact that a government office performed an inspection against civilians (not public servants) without any justifiable suspicion and legitimate court order itself is something that can cause tantamount upheaval. In fact, many equate the incident with the well-known Watergate scandal which brought down President Nixon in US in 1974. It is all the more so since the issue is burning toward Blue House step by step by several recent revelations. In fact, just after the recent revitalization of illegal civilian inspection controversy, the former presidential secretary of employment and labor Young-ho Lee confessed that he had ordered the destruction of evidence in a press conference. But he claimed that he had been the sole ‘main body’ of the incident and there had been no ‘upper line’ though public do not seem to believe his claims. All rights regarding this post stay with the author of the original article or with <Hankyoreh21> and this post will be scrapped immediately at their request. In the post, I tried to match the English translation of names of people / institutions / positions to their authentic ones as much as I can but, inevitably, some of them may be different. Original article of this post (in Korean) can be found in the link at the bottom.

[Cover Story] Government official testified to <Hankyoreh21> “then Blue House administrative officer Jong-seok Choi ordered to destroy civilian inspection evidences” .. exclusively obtained supplementary affidavit for appeal by the managing officer of Prime Minister’s office indicated “prosecution’s seizure and search was to check if evidences were properly destroyed”

<Editor’s note> Illegal civilian inspection by Prime Minister’s office Public Service Ethics Supporting Officer Team (Support Team) which was revealed by former CEO of KB Hanmaeum Jong-ik Kim in 2010 was an incident that exposed the vileness of power sweepingly. Authority,  suspecting that he was ‘pro-Rho’, tried to confiscate his property and to socially ostracize him. When the inspection incident was exposed, the authority discarded all evidences during which they utilized mobile phones under fake name that only small fry crooks would use.

In-kyoo Lee (이인규), former support team officer, and Choong-gon Kim (김충곤), former manager of check team 1, were both sentenced 10 months of imprisonment for illegally inspecting civilian including Mr. Kim last Apr. Former investigator Choong-yeon Won (원충연) was sentenced 8 months and former investigator Hwa-ki Kim (김화기) was sentenced 6 months with 2 years of probation for the same crime. Except for former investigator Hwa-ki Kim, all arrested and indicted fulfilled their terms. Former chief of general support department Kyeong-lak Jin (진경락) who was suspected of destroying evidences was sentenced 10 months of imprisonment with 2 years of probation and Jin-soo Jang (장진수), former managing officer, and Joong-ki Kwon, former investigator, were sentenced 8 months of imprisonments with 2 years of probations each in second trial. They await Supreme Court rulings.

Despite almost two years of investigation and court trials, nothing related to Young-joon Park (박영준), former Prime Minister’s office deputy department head of state affairs, and Young-ho Lee (이영호), former Blue House secretary of employment and labor, both of whom have been suspected of the ‘main body’ or ‘upper line’ of all the incident was clarified yet. That’s because they have never been investigated regarding those things. If judicial organizations don’t show any intention to move forward, someone should step up and find the truth. <Hankyoreh 21> contacted numerous government officials who were akin to inner circumstances of then support team. We met one such official in last Feb. 29. Also, we examined investigation reports and court records amounting to nearly ten thousand pages. From depositions and evidences, we tried to find clues that would lead us closer to the truth. Clearly, there were links that could link those on trial to their ‘upper lines’. We also found out circumstances that revealed how shoddily public prosecutors had investigated those cases. We also discovered materials that made us infer how widely the support team unfolded the illegal inspection network. We wonder; Who would it have been that stopped them to put those pieces of puzzle together?

 

Hazy Blue House afar by Hankyoreh Jong-geun Lee 사진 한겨레 이종근.

 

As soon as the illegal civilian inspection by Public Office Ethics Supporter Office of Prime Minister’s Office (supporter office) was exposed to broad daylight, those involved in it tried to cover the sky with their bare hands; they destroyed all inspection-related materials. So far, prosecution indicated that the destruction of evidence was carried out by Jin-soo Jang, former managing officer, and Joong-ki Kwon, former investigator, under the order of Kyeong-lak Jin, former chief of general support department. So to speak, the pure act of support office. But, now there come claims that not only the supporter office but Blue House itself was also actively involved in the evidence destruction and possibly quarterbacked the prosecutors’ investigation.

Blue House administrative officer “You can dump computers into the river”

A government official who is quite familiar with circumstances at that time said to <Hankyoreh 21> “In Jul. 7, 2010 morning, Jong-seok Choi, then administrative officer of Blue House Employment and Labor Office, ordered Jin-soo Jang, former managing officer, ‘Prosecutors are said to come and execute the seizure and search warrant tomorrow. So, take care of all computers in Check Team 1 (that actually carried out the civilian inspection) and the computer of chief Kyeong-lak Jin physically today.'” Former administrative officer Jong-seok Choi was the person who opened a fake-name mobile phone that was used by supporter office during the evidence destruction and handed it over to them. He was in the direct order line from Young-ho Lee, former Blue House secretary of Employment and Labor, who was deeply involved in the establishment and management of supporter office. With the revelation of fake-name mobile phone opened by former administrative officer Choi, strong suspicions that Blue House was also involved in the destruction of evidence were raised but the prosecution did not investigate this properly. Prosecution that had been to a hotel in downtown Seoul to interrogate former administrative officer Choi said later “There is no evidence that he lent the fake-name phone with the knowledge that it would be used for crimes” and exonerated him from the suspicion. Blue House, based on this prosecution’s conclusion, also defended him. Former administrative officer Choi, having been appointed to Korean Embassy in US last Aug., stays in Washington DC now.

The government officials comment indicates that former administrative officer Choi acted beyond the limit of helping the destruction of evidence but directly ordered it, which is in direct contradiction to prosecutions investigation result. Also, it indicates that Blue House and prosecution worked hand in hand to cover up the case. The official’s claim is as follows: “In Jul. 7, 2010 morning, former administrative officer Choi called former managing officer Jin-soo Jang to Blue House. At a bench in the alley from Blue House to Prime Minister’s Office, former administrative officer Choi ordered the destruction of evidence saying that “You can destroy hard disks with a hammer or dump them in the river. We’ve already talked to the Civil Affairs Office. It won’t be a problem at the prosecution.” Then he requested “This is a matter of extreme confidentiality; don’t talk to anyone about this.”

At that time, former managing officer Jang already cleared all computer hard disks of supporter office with a software ‘Eraser’ by former department chief Jin’s order. But former administrative officer Choi said “Prosecution can possibly recover the files by any means so they should be taken care of physically. Civil Affairs office demands us to destroy all materials and prosecution promised not to make fuss out of this.” Returning to office, former managing officer Jang looked for degaussing companies. Former department chief Jin pressed him “You’ve got the message from administrative officer Choi, right? Do it right away.” At 3 PM that day, former administrative officer Choi called former managing officer Jang again to Blue House. He handed him a mobile phone. “‘EB’ (acronym for former Blue House secretary of Employment and Labor Young-ho Lee) has used this until this morning. There must be a phone number in it. We talk to each other (about progress on evidence destruction job) only through that number.” That phone was one of the controversial fake-name mobile phones.

Actually, former managing officer Jang degaussed 4 hard disks at a company in Suwon, Gyeonggi-do that day afternoon. He made many calls to former administrative officer Choi using the fake-name phone on his way to the company and after finishing ‘the job’. Two days later in Jul. 9, prosecution seized and searched  the supporter office. People lambasted the delayed seizure and search at four days later than the formation of special investigation team for buying time for those involved in illegal inspection to destroy all evidences.

 

Schematic diagram of illegal civilian inspection and evidence destruction

 

There are other records that substantiate the official’s claims; former managing officer Jang’s supplementary affidavit to appeal reasons he submitted to the Supreme Court in Jun. last year. Former managing officer Jang wrote “Before former administrative officer Choi was investigated (due to the fake name phone issue) by the prosecution, he had paid a visit to the 2nd presidential secretary of civilian affairs Jin-mo Kim and had said ‘if I will be incarcerated for this issue, presidential secretary office of civilian affairs will not be spared either.’ Because of this, presidential secretary of civil affairs Kim called a top brass of (Seoul) Regional Prosecution and denounced ‘how can you cause this much trouble?'” Considering the circumstances that Blue House is fiercely denying the allegation that Blue House could be involved in the illegal civilian inspection and destruction of evidence (even some insiders of ruling party raise) and former administrative officer Choi was investigated outside of prosecution’s building (an obvious exceptional favor by the prosecution), these allegations are in line with the government official’s remark that Blue House and the prosecution worked together about the whole issue. But the former presidential secretary Jin-mo Kim retorted “It’s preposterous and unfounded. At the time when the issue broke out, presidential secretary office of civilian affairs was blamed for not being able to grip tight on the supporter office. How could we get involved in the matter that we even didn’t know what was going on.”

Former managing officer Jin-soo Jang claimed “former department chief Jin called me in his car and former administrative officer Jong-seok Choi was in the car with him” and added “a prosecutor explained that to me during investigation. Former administrative officer Choi himself told me that he heard former department chief Jin ordering me such a thing over the phone in the same car.”

“Former administrative officer Choi made a deposition to hear former department chief Jin’s order”

In the supplementary affidavit by former managing officer Jang is a remark that former administrative officer Choi was aware of the destruction of evidence beforehand. It happened on Jul. 4, three days before former administrative officer Choi directly ordered him ‘fail-prrof evidence destruction.’ That day, around 11:23 at night, former department chief Jin called former managing officer Jang twice. Former department chief Jang’s order was “to completely destroy all materials in Check Team 1 computers irrecoverably.” Former managing officer Jang claimed “former department chief Jin called me in a car and former administrative officer Jong-seok Choi was with him in the car.” Then he added “a prosecution explained that to me during investigation. Former administrative officer Choi himself told me that he heard former department chief Jin ordering me such a thing over the phone in the same car.”

Particularly eye-catching part in the supplementary affidavit besides the prosecution’s explanation and former administrative officer Choi’s support was that former department chief Jin, with former administrative officer Choi, was in the same car on their way from Bangee-dong to Ilwon-dong, Seoul when he was making the phone call that day. Bangee-dong was the place where former administrative officer Choi’s direct superior former employment and labor presidential secretary Young-ho Lee’s home sat and Ilwon-dong was a place where home of former manager of Check Team 1 Choong-gon Kim who was actually involved in the illegal inspection sat. Former managing officer Jang wrote “while I was working in the supporter office, they got together at former presidential secretary Young-ho Lee’s home or somewhere around it several times when they were talking about something secret. I know this since I who often worked as the driver of the supporter office drove former department chief Jin to former presidential secretary Lee’s home several times.” Former managing officer Jang’s inference is that the four got together that day either at former presidential secretary Lee’s home or somewhere near it to discuss ’emergency measures’ and former department chief Jin called him on the way back to their homes to order him to destroy evidences.

This kind of inference is possible since former presidential secretary Young-ho Lee, the right-arm man of former deputy department head of state affairs Young-joon Park, was deeply involved in the establishment and management of supporter office and all four were closely related with each other. According to the official organization chart, supporter office is supposed to report to Blue House secretary of civilian affairs. Former employment and labor presidential secretary Young-ho Lee who had nothing to do with the official report line actually interviewed and recruited those who would work in the office. Also he is known to have participated in the office picnics and gatherings. He is also suspected of being briefed of general reports and information reports by supporter office through an unofficial line. Former administrative officer Choi and former department chief Jin passed the Civil Service Examination at the same year and both worked at the Ministry of Labor. From the start of Myung-bak Lee’s government, they worked with former presidential secretary Lee at the Blue House Presidential Office of Employment and Labor. It is the general belief among political sphere and public official circles that former department chief Jin was appointed at the supporter office to make the job of former presidential secretary Lee easy. Former team leader Choong-gon Kim, as with former presidential secretary Lee and former administrative officer Choi, is from Pohang, Kyoungpook.

 

A claim surfaced that Blue House had taken the control in the destruction of evidences related to the illegal civilian inspection. The Central Government Complex annex in Changseong-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul. Prime Minister’s Public Service Ethics Supporter Office that carried out the illegal civilian inspection and evidence destruction is located in this building. Hankyoreh archive 한겨레 자료 사진

 

Young-ho Lee’s initials appeared from the cell phone of Prime Minister’s managing officer

Jul. 4 when former department chief Jin made a phone call was just one day before Prime Minister’s office would officially demand prosecution’s investigation on supporter office’s illegal inspection. Since Prime Minister’s office was in such a volatile situation, those directly involved in or were aware of the illegal inspection could have decided to take actions as soon as possible. Even if they did not have a contingency meeting that night, if former administrative officer Choi heard the phone call, considering the gravity of the issue, it is hard to imagine that he would not have notified the issue to his direct superior former presidential secretary Lee. It was already a prevalent suspicion that former presidential secretary Lee was practically running and managing the supporter office.

Having receiving the phone call from former department chief Jin, former managing officer Jang went to office at 6 AM the next day on Jul. 5. After locating a permanent file deletion program ‘Eraser’ on the internet, he downloaded the program and stored it in a portable USB memory card. Then, he put this memory card into 9 computers of check team 1 and deleted all materials in them. Subsequently, he degaussed them on Jul. 7.

According to some records, we can infer that former presidential secretary Young-ho Lee and supporter office were in superior-subordinate relationship through order and obedience. In the supplementary affidavit, there is a story former managing officer Jang heard from former department chief Jin one day prior to arrest warrant validity screen. “So far, I just did what they ordered me to. EB was not such an easy person and gave me really a tough time to work for; he called me day and night; I had to drink everyday until late at night against my will for EB. I really toiled for him so much and he puts me in this corner? Why?” Put them in a context, they are a kind of a complaint that he just destroyed evidences as former presidential secretary Lee had ‘ordered him to’ but he, just a small fry, was about to be prosecuted.

Also, two phone numbers spelled as ‘Jong-seok Choi (eb)’ were found besides former administrative officer Choi’s active phone number in the contact list prosecution recovered from former managing officer Jang’s mobile phone. Prosecution, based on the fact that ‘eb’ designated former presidential secretary Young-ho Lee, questioned “they are named as Jong-seok Choi but in fact these are used by presidential secretary of employment and labor Young-ho Lee, right?” Former managing officer Jang declined answering the question. Except for ‘business association’, we cannot come up with any good reason for former managing officer Jang storing phone numbers of those two although he did not have any personal acquaintances.

But, prosecution did not investigate these facts properly. To former administrative officer Choi, they offered a favor by performing ‘on-site investigation’ at a hotel in downtown Seoul. For former presidential secretary Lee, they called him once to public prosecutor’s building, investigated for just 6 hours and then let him go. That was all. When they were charging former department chief Jin and former managing officer Jang, they did not include things that were related to fake name phones. Investigation report no. 5 that contains materials related to fake name phones were not submitted to the court either. Because of this, former managing officer Jang, in his supplementary affidavit, even raised the suspicion that “prosecution performed the seizure and search (of supporter office) not to investigate illegal civilian inspection but to confirm the (perfection of) destruction of evidence.” He claimed that they tried to make an excuse that they could not investigate the ‘upper line’ since supporter office had already destroyed the evidence.

Fake name phone, the link to ‘upper line’, should be reinvestigated

Presently, it is really hard to tell how much of former managing officer Jang’s claims are true to facts. But, the fact that prosecution did not pay any attention on the fake name phones, the core link between those actually executed orders and their ‘upper line’ in the civilian inspection and evidence destruction case, is more than enough to raise such suspicions. <Hankyoreh21> tried to contact former Blue House administrative officer Jong-seok Choi and former department chief Kyeong-lak Jin to confirm recently exposed facts in the supplementary affidavit and others. But, former administrative officer Choi said “I am driving and cannot talk right now. I will call you back later.” on Mar. 1 but could not be reached any more. Former department chief Jin declined answering questions “I don’t know what they say but I don’t remember. Let’s talk again later.”

Two phone numbers spelled as ‘Jong-seok Choi (eb)’ were found besides former administrative officer Choi’s active phone number in the contact list prosecution recovered from former managing officer Jang’s mobile phone. Prosecution, based on the fact that ‘eb’ designated former presidential secretary Young-ho Lee, questioned “they are named as Jong-seok Choi but in fact these are used by Young-ho Lee presidential secretary of employment and labor, right?”

조혜정 기자zesty@hani.co.kr

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