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Probe needed over suspicious cover-up on Sewol sinking

Posted October. 13, 2017 07:36,   

Updated October. 13, 2017 09:22

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President Moon Jae-in's Chief of Staff Im Jong-seok claimed that the timeline on the sinking of the Sewol ferry was modified after the accident under the Park Geun-hye administration. According to the documents submitted to the Constitutional Court for the impeachment case of former President Park Geun-hye, Park received the report on the sinking of the ferry at 10 a.m. on April 16, 2014 from the National Security Office (NSO) before making the first rescue order to former NSO Chief Kim Jang-soo at 10:15 a.m. Im claims, however, that the NSO briefed President Park on the accident at 9:30 a.m., but it altered the report time to 10:00 a.m. and drew up the log again on Oct. 23, 2014. If his claim is proved true, this suggests that it took as much as 45 minutes for the former president of South Korea to make the vital first rescue order, not 15 minutes.

When the accident occurred, the sinking of the Sewol was being broadcast live on TV starting at 9:19 a.m. The NSO verified the sinking with the maritime police before making internal notification with text messages at 9:24 a.m. Questions have been raised as to why the NSO withheld the report for as long as 40 minutes before reporting the sinking to President Park. If the allegation turns out to be true, and if the presidential office did falsify the document to emphasize the president’s responsiveness, it constitutes a fabrication of official documents as well as a fraudulent act against the entire South Korean people. It is necessary to launch a comprehensive investigation into what former President Park was doing on the morning of the tragic sinking of the Sewol ferry.

Im argued that the Presidential Office’s crisis management manual had also been changed. During the special investigation committee on state affairs of the National Assembly on July 10, 2014, asked if the Presidential Office should act as a control tower of the Sewol ferry, former Chief of Staff Kim Ki-chun said, “It is the head of the Ministry of Security and Public Administration who is responsible for disaster management according to the Framework Act on Disaster and Safety Management.” However, the original version of the crisis management manual stipulates that the head of the National Security Office plays the role of a combined control tower in case of national crises, but Kim Kwan-jin, the then chief of the NSO, gave orders to alter the manual in late July so as to separate and put the matters of disasters under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Security and Public Administration.

If the former NSO chief made a false testimony to avert the responsibility and changed the manual to back it up, this will be a crime that cannot be condoned. Furthermore, given that it requires deliberation by the Minister of Government Legislation to modify presidential directives including the crisis management manual, crossing out parts of the existing manual with a red pen without going through such due procedures will be in flagrant violation of the country’s legal system.

Admittedly, the timing of Im’s divulging does not sit comfortably. Much attention is being paid to whether Park Geun-hye’s imprisonment will be extended with the six-month expiration being slated next Monday, and summons are imminent on former Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin over his alleged involvement with the cyberwarfare unit’s online activities to sway public opinions in favor of the previous conservative governments. However, it would be very difficult to forgive them if the Presidential Office did manipulate the facts and modified the laws arbitrarily to lessen the responsibility of the president and her office over such an unprecedented tragedy for the entire nation.