The Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office said it has been asked by an NIS internal reform task force to look into suspicions that two top ex-NIS officials are involved in the scheme, in violation of the agency's laws stipulating political neutrality and prohibiting abuse of power.
The NIS task force has found that its former chief Won Sei-hoon and another ranking official created a watch list of some 82 actors, film directors, columnists and singers to persecute them for their critical stance toward the Lee administration, which ended its five-year term in early 2013.
They are also suspected of carrying out a covert smear campaign against Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon for his left-leaning political stance. They are said to have induced conservative civic groups to bolster their campaigns against the mayor's key policies and spread Internet comments maligning him.
The two former NIS officials allegedly had their subordinates exert pressure on government agencies to conduct tax probes on entertainment agencies that had contracts with those artists. They also peddled influence on public broadcasters to exclude them from the mainstream media.
The prosecution said it plans to call in some of the blacklist victims for questioning and take statements from them.
The task force was set up after liberal President Moon Jae-in took office in May, after his predecessor President Park Geun-hye was ousted over a massive corruption scandal in March. She has been detained and is standing trial.
Park's top aide recently received a three-year jail term from a Seoul court for spearheading an artist blacklist project during her term. Won, who was appointed by Lee in 2009, is also being detained and is awaiting the top court's ruling on the charge that he interfered in the 2012 presidential election.
The prosecution's probe now draws attention as to whether the investigation will eventually target former President Lee Myung-bak and his staff.
The blacklist scandal involving Park's staff was one of the catalysts that triggered massive street protests by citizens calling for her impeachment. (Yonhap)