(2nd LD) Prosecution chief orders probe into death of ruling party chairman’s aide

December 4, 2020

 South Korea’s top prosecutor on Friday ordered an investigation into the death of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) Chairman Lee Nak-yon’s close aide who was found dead the previous night while under probe for an alleged breach of the political fund law.

Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl ordered the human rights supervisor at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors Office to look into whether there have been human rights violations while questioning the official.

The police discovered the 54-year-old man’s body in a building near the prosecution office in southern Seoul at around 9:15 p.m. Thursday, after his family reported him missing.

He had been questioned until 6:30 p.m. at the prosecution office and failed to show up for more questioning after dinner. The official, who was working at the secretary office of the DP chairman, is said to have told his family “sorry” before he went missing.

Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl is seen in a car on his way to the Supreme Prosecutors Office in Seoul on Dec. 4, 2020. (Yonhap)

The police presumed he killed himself and were investigating the exact circumstances leading to his death. No suicide note has been found.

The official served as a special adviser on political affairs for Rep. Lee when he was South Jeolla Province governor from 2014-2017.

Last month, the Seoul city government’s election commission reported two people, including him, to the prosecution on charges of violating the political fund law.

They were suspected of receiving 760,000 won (US$701) between February and May from Trust All, a company believed to be related to the Optimus fraud scandal. The money was for the payment of a rental fee for a multifunction printer at Lee’s campaign office. Lee won a seat in the April parliamentary elections.

The Optimus fund scandal has been rocking the country for months, with investigation expanding into political and financial circles. The scandal centers on allegations that the private equity company solicited funds worth about 1.2 trillion won from thousands of people for investments in public institutions but actually funneled most of the money into risky assets, causing huge losses to the investors.

The chief prosecutor’s quick move is seen as part of efforts to deflect mounting criticism for what critics claim to be Yoon’s maneuver to exert undue pressure over the ruling party with the Optimus probe.

He has been at odds for nearly a year with the Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae, who is spearheading the Moon Jae-in administration’s reform of the state prosecution service.

“We feel very sorry for what has happened, and we express our deepest condolences to his family,” the prosecution said in a statement.

DP Chairman Lee expressed grief over the sudden death and extended condolences to the bereaved family.

“I have no means to suppress my grief … I don’t know how to console the bereaved family,” Lee was quoted as saying by his chief of staff Rep. Oh Young-hun.

“I pray for the repose of the deceased’s soul and extend my deep consolation to his family,” Lee said.