The Ministry of Environment admitted Thursday that it had prepared a document disclosed by the main opposition Liberty Korea Party with notes on which executives of public institutions under its supervision had resigned and which ones had refused.
When the document was disclosed a day earlier, the ministry denied preparing it or reporting it to the presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae. But around midnight the ministry admitted that it had prepared the document at the request of Kim Tae-woo, a former member of the special inspection team within the presidential office, and provided it to Kim in January. The ministry seems to have decided it would be useless to lie because the truth would eventually come out.
The document states the expiry dates of the terms of 24 executives of eight organizations affiliated with the ministry. At the top is written, “Resignation in progress without resistance except for Korea Environment Corp.” The footnote section details reasons why some executives refused to resign, despite apparent pressure.
Kim disputed the ministry’s assertion, saying he had not asked for any such document. The ministry said Thursday that the document had not been reported to anyone at a higher level. It effectively shifted the responsibility to Kim, who is being investigated by the prosecution over accusations filed by Cheong Wa Dae of breaking confidentiality during his time as a special inspector.
The presidential office said no one at Cheong Wa Dae except for Kim had seen the document or received any related report. It also said the office of the senior civil affairs secretary, who supervises the inspection team, had given no instructions to blacklist executives of public organizations.
The internal inspection board within the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office announced Thursday that Kim, while serving as a special inspector, had played golf with a civilian and improperly allowed the civilian to pick up the tab. It also said he had tried to intervene in a police investigation involving an acquaintance. The board asked the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office to dismiss Kim. This request may have been made in the same vein as Cheong Wa Dae’s accusations.
Regardless of whether the document was reported to the presidential office, the fact that the government prepared this document at all undermines its moral authority.
The argument that Kim asked for what amounts to a blacklist just to keep it to himself, and that Cheong Wa Dae was in the dark all along, is unconvincing from the perspective of common sense.
Kim revealed in an interview with a news organization that Cheong Wa Dae had compiled a list of 660 executives from 330 public institutions. On his team leader’s instructions, Kim said, last year he chose about 100 execs from the list whose political leanings favored opposition parties and targeted them for inspections.
The Moon administration campaigned to root out corruption and made this its top priority. At the orders of Cheong Wa Dae, an anti-corruption committee was formed within each ministry. These committees dug up any minor dirt they could find on figures who were part of past administrations and put pressure on them to leave. Their posts were then filled with supporters of the ruling camp.
In April last year, Moon condemned the blacklisting of cultural figures by the government of former President Park Geun-hye, calling it a form of state violence and saying the perpetrators had trampled on the foundations of the nation. Now his own administration has fallen under similar suspicions.
It is reasonable to wonder whether it was only the Environment Ministry that kept a blacklist. The ministry has a relatively small number of public organizations under its wing. Very likely, other ministries with more institutions under their supervision did the same thing.
Suspected blacklisting is a matter that is too weighty to dismiss as a personal aberration on Kim’s part, as Cheong Wa Dae has argued. And it is hard to believe the prosecution will conduct an unbiased investigation of this politically sensitive issue. The National Assembly must step in. A parliamentary investigation is essential, and there are few reasons not to pursue an investigation by an independent counsel. Moon’s chief of staff, Im Jong-seok, and Senior Civil Affairs Secretary Cho Kuk will be summoned before a parliamentary committee on Monday. They must answer all questions honestly. They must not try to hide anything. The truth will come to light someday.