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[Editorial] No sanctuary in probe

Moon calls state auditor's written investigation 'rude'; he must respond

Oct. 5, 2022 - 05:30 By Korea Herald

Former President Moon Jae-in reportedly refused to receive the Board of Audit and Inspection's written investigation late last month in connection with the incident of North Korean soldiers shooting dead a South Korean government employee in the western sea. Then the board requested a written inquiry in an email to the office of Moon's secretary, which is said to have returned it Friday.

Lee Dae-jun, an official of the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, went missing on duty from a monitoring boat of the ministry in the western sea in September 2020. He was later found adrift in the North Korean waters by North Korean soldiers, who shot him dead while he was floating at sea, burned his body and discarded the remains in the sea.

The Moon administration said that Lee had voluntarily defected to the North.

In June, a year and nine months after the incident, the Korea Coast Guard under President Yoon Suk-yeol reversed the official position after a reinvestigation. It said that it found no evidence showing Lee's intention to defect to North Korea. Many questions were then raised about related procedures taken under the Moon administration in the report, and demands for more information have been mounting.

The board’s inspection is focused on how the Moon administration came to conclude that Lee voluntarily defected to the North. Its inspection targets nine agencies, including the National Security Office of former President Moon's Cheong Wa Dae, the National Intelligence Service and the Ministry of National Defense. Moon is not the only target.

Lee’s family argues that the Moon administration did not attempt to rescue him for fear of possible adverse effects on its relations with North Korea and that it framed him as a voluntary defector to the North.

The Moon administration knew for six hours that Lee had been found by North Korean soldiers, and this fact was first reported to President Moon three hours before Lee was shot dead. People want to know what the administration did for the six hours and what Moon instructed after receiving the report.

In a letter to former President Moon, Lee's son asked what the government did to prevent his father from being killed. Moon replied that he would personally oversee government efforts to get to the bottom of the incident. In fact, however, he did little. He refused to disclose related data including reports and minutes. The court ordered partial disclosure of the data, then the presidential office appealed. He eventually archived them as presidential records that cannot be disclosed for 15 years.

States must take appropriate steps to safeguard the lives of those within their jurisdiction. In this respect, uncovering the truth about the incident in which a South Korean national was killed by North Korean soldiers is a top-priority principle for the government to abide by. He must reply to the board's written inquiry.

There will be no sanctuary in a probe to get to the bottom of a suspicious and grave incident. No one is above the law. Former presidents are no exception. The state auditor inquired into former presidents before Moon. It sent questionnaires to former President Kim Young-sam in 1998 regarding the policymaking process in connection with Korea's foreign currency crisis and former President Roh Tae-woo in 1993 as part of its special inspection into the Yulgok Project to modernize the Korean armed forces. And the board received their written answers.

It also delivered questionnaires to former Presidents Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye in 2017 and 2018, respectively, and they refused the board's investigation. But they did not react so furiously.

Moon expressed displeasure at the board’s attempts for a written investigation, calling them "very rude." There is no justification for his excessive reaction and refusal of the board's written inquiry. If his action was open and above board, Moon would do well to cooperate with efforts to reveal the truth. If he stubbornly refuses any investigation, suspicions that he did shady things will only grow.