Ex-defense chief found to have multiple calls with presidential security chief over Marine’s death

May 29, 2024

Former Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup had multiple phone calls with the presidential security service chief while a military probe was under way into the on-duty death of a Marine conscript last year, communication records showed Wednesday.

The records, obtained by Yonhap News Agency, come as the anti-corruption investigation office is conducting an inquiry into allegations that the presidential office and the defense ministry inappropriately interfered in the investigation into the Marine’s death.

After Cpl. Chae Su-geun was swept away and killed during a risky search mission for victims of heavy downpours in the central county of Yecheon in July last year, the Marine Corps launched an internal investigation.

Col. Park Jung-hun, former chief investigator of the Marines, drew up a report accusing a Marine division commander and seven other military officials of professional negligence resulting in Chae’s death and then submitted the report to the police.

The report was, however, immediately retrieved from the police by the defense ministry, while Park was dismissed as chief Marine investigator and was placed under a military investigation for alleged disobedience.

According to the communications records, Lee had phone calls or text messages with Kim Yong-hyun, chief of the Presidential Security Service, on eight occasions between Aug. 4-7, either by initiating or receiving the communication.

The communication took place a few days after Park’s investigation report was retrieved from the police on Aug. 2.

Lee was also found to have received several calls from President Yoon Suk Yeol, Prime Minister Han Duck-soo, then National Security Adviser Cho Tae-yong and Principal Deputy National Security Adviser Kim Tae-hyo in the week since Aug. 2.

In particular, Lee also exchanged several calls and text messages with Interior Minister Lee Sang-min every day between Aug. 3-7.

On Aug. 9, the defense ministry ordered that Chae’s case be referred to the ministry’s investigation unit for reconsideration.

Earlier, suspicions surfaced among Marine reservists that Lim Seong-geun, the accused then commander of the Marine Corps 1st Division, might have attempted to evade police investigation using his personal connections, including the presidential security chief, who previously served as an operational chief at the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Lee has repeatedly insisted that the decisions to retrieve Park’s investigation report and open a disobedience probe against him were his own.