Prosecutors raid prime minister’s office over alleged illegal surveillance of businessman

By Kwang-tae Kim, AP
Friday, July 9, 2010

Prosecutors raid SKorea prime minister’s office

SEOUL, South Korea — Prosecutors raided the prime minister’s office Friday over allegations its ethics officials illegally investigated a citizen over the posting of an Internet video critical of South Korea’s president.

Prosecution officials confiscated computer servers and documents of four ethics officials, an official in the prime minister’s office said.

He said the four officials allegedly conducted surveillance of the former head of a small South Korean financial company after he reportedly posted a video on the Internet critical of President Lee Myung-bak in 2008.

The official requested anonymity, citing the issue’s sensitivity. Prosecutors were not immediately available for comment.

Prime minister’s office ethics officials are tasked with conducting investigations of public servants suspected of wrongdoing or corruption. It is illegal to investigate ordinary citizens, the official said.

The raid is likely to be seen as an embarrassment to Lee as he prepares to reshuffle his top aides and Cabinet following his ruling party’s election defeat in June.

It also comes amid speculation that Prime Minister Chung Un-chan could resign after the National Assembly voted down Lee’s proposal to scrap a plan to relocate a number of government offices away from Seoul and a neighboring city to a new municipality farther south.

The prime minister has not been implicated in the alleged illegal surveillance by the ethics officials.

Lee came to office in February in 2008 after a landslide victory. His public support ratings initially suffered after an unpopular decision to resume imports of U.S. beef that had been banned over fears of mad cow disease.

His popularity later recovered as he steered the country through the global financial crisis. He has also dealt with near-constant tensions with rival North Korea, most recently over the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship Seoul has blamed on Pyongyang. North Korea denies involvement.

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