Prosecutors on Wednesday indicted four aides to former President Park Geun-hye for doctoring the time log of reports to the president on a 2014 ferry sinking that took more than 300 lives.
The Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office said it charged Kim Ki-choon, Park's former chief of staff, for document falsification and abuse of power. It also indicted Kim Jang-soo and Kim Kwan-jin, two former heads of the National Security Office, on the charge of damaging public documents, and Yoon Jeon-choo, a presidential secretary, for perjury, the office said.
Prosecutors have been investigating allegations that Park's office deliberately altered the time she had first been briefed on the accident, to 10 a.m. from 9:30 a.m., in an apparent attempt to conceal the president's unaccounted whereabouts at the time of the sinking.
The official complaint was made by the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae, now led by the liberal Moon Jae-in government.
The 6,800-ton ferry was carrying 476 passengers en route to the resort island of Jeju when it capsized in waters off the southern coast on April 16, killing 304 people, mostly high school students on a school trip.
The sunken ferry Sewol is seen at a port in Mokpo, South Korea, April 1, 2017. (Reuters-Yonhap)
The Park government's alleged mishandling of the accident was one of the triggers that spurred moves toward her impeachment and ultimate ouster from office in March last year.
In announcing the probe result, the prosecution said Park received the first report on the Sewol sinking around 10:20 a.m., already one hour after Kim Jang-soo was first notified of the accident by the Coast Guard.
The ship had already begun to sink before 9 a.m. and was completely under water at 10:30, according to the Coast Guard's log obtained by the prosecution. Kim tried to reach Park over the phone as soon as he learned of the accident, but she did not answer his calls and it took more time to reach her because he had to get the message to Park through her aides.
Prosecutors discovered that Park remained in her official residence at the time, away from the main office, and her aide had to call his chauffeur to drive him to the residence in Cheong Wa Dae to personally deliver the first report to her. Park gave her first official instruction about the rescue at 10:22 a.m.
Kim Ki-choon is suspected of having ordered officials to write up false documents to make it look as though Park was briefed on the sinking in time and was kept posted on real-time developments by receiving 11 more reports throughout the day.
But the probe found that Park was only updated on the accident, on paper, twice, again through her aide.
Kim Jang-soo and Kim Kwan-jin are accused of altering parts of the national crisis management guidelines without due legal process to strip Park and her government of responsibility as the chief executive. They ordered officials to delete the part where it stated "The National Security Office is the control tower of a national catastrophe."
The prosecution probe also revealed that Choi Soon-sil, Park's longtime friend and confidante, who was implicated in the corruption scandal that led to her ouster, visited the residence on that day and stayed with Park and her aides in the afternoon. (Yonhap)