Ex-Park aide Woo arrested for alleged illegal surveillance

By Ock Hyun-ju

Published : Dec 15, 2017 - 15:48
Updated : Dec 15, 2017 - 18:57

Woo Byung-woo, one of former President Park Geun-hye’s key aides, was arrested early Friday morning for his involvement in the state spy agency’s illegal surveillance on civilians and government officials. 

The Seoul Central District Court issued the warrant for Woo, who served as Park’s senior presidential secretary for civil affairs in 2015 and 2016, on charges of abuse of power. It was the prosecution’s third attempt to take Woo into custody. Following the decision, Woo was transported to a detention center. 

Woo Byung-woo (Yonhap)

The court said that his charge was proved beyond reasonable doubt and there is a possibility of him destroying evidence. The same court rejected the prosecution’s requests twice in February and April this year, citing lack of evidence.

The prosecution sought to arrest him again over new suspicions that Woo, 50, ordered the National Intelligence Service to secretly spy on civilians and government officials deemed critical of the conservative Park administration. Among the surveilled was Lee Seok-su, ex-special inspector who was probing Woo over corruption allegations.

The prosecution also suspects that Woo has been involved in drawing up a blacklist of liberal cultural figures considered critical of Park and her policies and implementing it to discriminate against them, such as in doling out state funding.

Woo has denied all charges, saying he never ordered the NIS to conduct illegal surveillance and he only did the job within his discretion as the presidential aide for civil affairs.

Woo has been tried without detention on charges that he abetted or condoned meddling in state affairs by Park‘s confidante Choi Soon-sil and that he disrupted an investigation by then-special inspector Lee.

Woo is the only major figure to have avoided arrested among those implicated in the corruption scandal. The scandal, which led to ex-President Park’s ouster in March, sent Park, Choi, government officials and business tycoons including Samsung Group’s heir apparent Lee Jae-yong to trial and jail.

Park, who was arrested in March, is on trial on 18 charges including bribery and abuse of power. Choi, who was arrested in November last year and accused as an accomplice to Park for 13 charges, is awaiting a verdict scheduled for Jan. 26. The prosecution has demanded a 25-year prison term for her.

Woo’s arrest is expected to give a boost to the prosecution’s investigation into suspected irregularities surrounding the state agency under the previous conservative administrations. 

The prosecution has been looking into the NIS over allegations that it interfered in the 2012 presidential election to sway public opinion in favor of then-conservative candidate Park, spied on civilians and government officials and provided illicit funds to the presidential office.

It remains to be seen how the arrest will affect Park’s trial. Woo reportedly testified during a prosecutorial questioning that Park had ordered him to spy on Kim Jin-seon, ex-head of the committee for PyeongChang Winter Olympics, and public servants from the Culture Ministry.



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