Following the Dec. 7 suicide of former Defense Security Command (DSC) chief Lt. Gen. Lee Jae-Su, conservatives in South Korea are calling on the liberal Moon Jae-In government to cease what they say is a “witch hunt” targeting political figures from the previous government.
Lee was found dead in the lobby of a 13-story office building on Dec. 7. Police initially concluded he leaped to his death.
The Korea Times reported that Lee committed suicide “apparently due to pressure from an investigation” in which he “was questioned over allegations that he abused his power to conduct illegal surveillance of bereaved families of the 2014 Sewol ferry disaster.”
The ferry sank on April 16, 2014 while carrying 476 people, mostly secondary school students from Danwon High School. In total, 304 passengers and crew members died.
The leftist opposition, led by current President Moon Jae-In, organized demonstrations and investigations following the tragedy against conservative President Park Geun-Hye that culminated in her impeachment and 30-year prison sentence for alleged corruption.
Journalists who challenged the evidence used to convict Park have been imprisoned according to reports by East Asia Research Center and panelists at a recent American Enterprise Institute event, “Open Society and its Enemies in South Korea” on Dec. 11.
Investigators alleged that Lee attempted to manage the aftermath of the disaster by trying to manipulate public sentiment.
“I hope the Moon Jae-in administration stops making political use of the prosecution,” Rep. Yoo Seung-Min, a former co-leader of the minor opposition Bareunmirae Party, said after sending a condolence message to Lee’s family.
“I am confident that Lee is free from any of the allegations he was facing,” Yoo said.
Former Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-Ahn said “Everyone says that the so-called targeted and excessive investigation is the wrong type of probe. This is not the first time a suspect passed away during the prosecution’s investigation, and it is regrettable that the investigation leaves much to be desired.”
East Asia Research Center noted in a Dec. 16 report that prosecutors had pressured Lee “to point out Kim Kwan-Jin, the former National Security Adviser, as complicit in a crime, and the former commander was tormented by such pressure, conveyed an acquaintance.”
Lee, the report said, told his confidants that investigators “[forcibly] took/accessed all the [Defense Security Command’s classified and unclassified] servers, how could I survive?”
The DSC was disbanded earlier this year.
In July, prominent liberal South Korean politician Roh Hoe-Chan of the small opposition Justice Party reportedly jumped to his death from a Seoul apartment building after leaving a suicide note amid a corruption scandal.