Political wrangling deepens amid row over budget record leak

SEOUL, Sept. 28 (Yonhap) -- Rival parties on Friday clashed over an allegation that an opposition lawmaker's aides accessed digital files on the fiscal budget and other confidential state statistics without authorization.

The ruling Democratic Party (DP) denounced Rep. Shim Jae-chul of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) for making what it called an "obvious illegal act." But the LKP branded prosecutors' probe into its lawmaker as politically charged suppression on an opposition party.

The controversy erupted last week as prosecutors raided Shim's office at the National Assembly over the alleged budget record leak. The lawmaker said his aides discovered documents about illicit spending by those who accompanied President Moon Jae-in on an overseas trip.

The finance ministry lodged a complaint with prosecutors against Shim on Thursday. In a tit-for-tat action, the LKP said Friday it will file a complaint of its own against Vice Finance Minister Kim Yong-jin.

The case is likely to be a major point of contention at the ongoing parliamentary regular session at a time when the ruling party needs cooperation from opposition parties for ratifying the April inter-Korean summit deal.

The presidential office rebutted his claim. It said it is inevitable for its officials to handle state affairs beyond business hours, given that the nature of their work requires urgency and security and trade issues call for around-the-clock readiness.

The DP said that Shim and his aides are suspected of systemically leaking data, which amounts to a crime.

"It is another criminal act that he disclosed details about Cheong Wa Dae's expenses even without checking basic facts, on top of illegal data leaks," Hong Young-pyo, the floor leader of the DP, said during a meeting with senior party officials.

A group of 23 DP lawmakers petitioned the parliamentary ethics committee for what they called Shim's act of severely hurting the authority of the National Assembly, calling on it to punish him.

"Rep. Shim allegedly hampered national security and the management of state affairs by leaking false facts to a third party, though a lawmaker should prioritize national interests," they said in a petition.

Meanwhile, the LKP stepped up its protest against the government, saying that what Shim did was a normal activity as a politician to prepare for a parliamentary probe.

"It is absurd that (the government) filed a complaint with prosecutors against an opposition lawmaker over what occurred in the process of securing data ahead of a parliamentary audit," Kim Sung-tae, the floor leader of the LKP, said at a meeting with party officials.

He vowed to thoroughly review details about what's spent by the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae and the government in the name of business operational expenses.

"If there was room for suspected misuses, we will ask prosecutors to investigate all of those who were suspected of misappropriating public funds and embezzling them," Kim said.

Earlier in the day, Kim and other LKP lawmakers visited the Supreme Prosecutors' Office and the Supreme Court to protest against prosecutors' raid on Shim's office.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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