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Politics

South Korea presidential office raided in surveillance probe

Opposition party lodged complaint based on whistleblower's claims

South Korea's presidential Blue House is under investigation for illegally collecting information on private citizens.(Photo by Masayuki Kozono)

SEOUL -- South Korean investigators raided the presidential compound Wednesday to probe allegations that President Moon Jae-in's administration abused its powers to conduct surveillance on private citizens.

Prosecutors launched the investigation after Kim Tae-woo, a former member of the presidential Blue House special inspection team, told the press that he was ordered to gather information on people. Among the individuals said to be tracked were bank executives and the son of a former prime minister.

The inspection team was set up for such tasks as rooting out corruption among public officials. Kim says he was forced out of his position after turning in evidence that a former lawmaker and current ambassador to Russia, Woo Yoon-keun, received illicit political funding in a report that was ignored by superiors. Woo is considered a close associate of Moon.

Kim went on to assert that the inspection team was going beyond its legal mandate and monitoring private citizens.

The Blue House denies any involvement in improper activity on an organizational level, and accuses Kim of exceeding his authority at his own discretion. The presidential office filed a criminal complaint against Kim on Dec. 19, charging him with making false accusations and divulging sensitive information.

The affair entered the political arena when the leading opposition group, the Liberty Korea Party, filed an abuse of power complaint Thursday against Moon's Chief of Staff Im Jong-seok, Senior Civil Affairs Secretary Cho Kuk and two other top aides.

The Liberty Korea Party is the successor of Saenuri, the once-dominant conservative party led by former President Park Geun-hye. As a fallout of Park's impeachment and imprisonment for corruption, Liberty Korea now finds itself in the political wilderness, largely shunned by the public looking for a clean slate in the Moon era.

If it is discovered that the Blue House under Moon did in fact illegally collect information on private citizens, then the opposition parties would have a political opening to attack the Moon administration. The opposition wants Im and Cho to appear before legislators to answer questions about the  allegations.

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