A former member of a Cheong Wa Dae special inspection team was found dead Sunday. The prosecution and police are investigating his death as a suicide.
He was an investigator belonging to the prosecution who had been dispatched to a special inspection team under Baek Won-woo, then the presidential secretary for civil affairs. Baek is now vice director of the Institute for Democracy, which has been dubbed as the ruling Democratic Party’s think tank to devise election strategies.
The man was scheduled to be questioned by the Seoul Central District Prosecutor’s Office in connection with suspicions that Cheong Wa Dae had commanded police investigations of an opposition party candidate for Ulsan mayor.
The prosecution investigator visited Ulsan before the June 13 local elections last year, and his visit is suspected of being related to the collection of intelligence on irregularities surrounding the mayor who sought reelection.
A Cheong Wa Dae spokeswoman dismissed the suspicion Monday, saying he went to Ulsan to interview related officials regarding the “whale meat incident.” At that time, Ulsan District Prosecutor’s Office was at odds with Ulsan Metropolitan Police Agency over a prosecutor’s measure to return billions of won of whale meat seized by police to the suspect who captured whales illegally.
Was the incident important enough for special inspectors under the presidential secretary for civil affairs to intervene? The case for that is hardly convincing.
Furthermore, the duty of Baek’s office is to manage issues related to the president’s relatives and “specially related persons,” including senior presidential secretaries.
If it is true that he went to Ulsan because of the whale meat incident, there would be no reason for him to take his own life over the matter.
For this reason, it is fair to say that he likely agonized over something else.
Ahead of the questioning by the prosecution he may have been tortured by the dilemma over whether to be dishonest or betray his colleagues and superiors.
His colleagues in the office of the presidential secretary for civil affairs told a newspaper anonymously that when he worked with them, he had remarked several times to the effect that the office was “doing very dangerous things.”
Baek is said to have drawn up a plan to form a task force in each ministry of the government to dig up irregularities of past governments and punish those involved. He oversaw the implementation of the plan. This work had nothing to do with issues concerning the president’s relatives or specially related persons.
The investigator returned to the prosecution in February, and in August he was assigned to a team investigating corruption allegations against Yoo Jae-soo, formerly vice mayor of Busan. Yoo is among the few confidants of Moon who can call the president by his first name in private.
He is said to have complained to colleagues there that the office of the senior presidential secretary for civil affairs persistently demanded investigation information on the Yoo case.
Cheong Wa Dae vehemently denies instructing police to investigate an opposition party candidate. But many suspicious circumstances point in a different direction.
President Moon Jae-in’s chief of staff Noh Young-min said Cheong Wa Dae had forwarded a tipoff on allegations against Ulsan Mayor Kim Gi-hyeon to police without tampering with it, but the intelligence report Ulsan Metropolitan Police Agency received is said to be copious and to appear professionally worded.
The prosecution investigator was suspected of having refined the tip into a professional intelligence report. If this is correct, he likely did so upon instructions from above.
Hwang Un-ha, then commissioner of the Ulsan Metropolitan Police Agency, accelerated investigations into complaints against Ulsan Mayor Kim upon being appointed as chief of the agency in August 2017.
There are news reports that Hwang met Song Cheol-ho, who defeated Kim to become Ulsan mayor, along with a “figure from Seoul” in a restaurant before the elections.
All of these circumstances eventually contributed to Song’s election as mayor. Song has a special relationship with Moon, who once said “my greatest wish is to see him get elected.”
The prosecution investigator at the center of suspicions of Cheong Wa Dae’s election meddling died, but his death amplifies the suspicions. The prosecution must get to the bottom of his death, particularly in connection with the office of the presidential secretary for civil affairs.