Seoul prosecution chief refuses questioning over travel ban case

SEOUL-- The chief prosecutor in Seoul has refused to undergo questioning in connection with an alleged illegal overseas travel ban on a former senior official, his lawyer said Tuesday.

Prosecutors in Suwon, south of Seoul, last week requested Lee Sung-yoon, chief of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors Office, appear for questioning over allegations that he abused power to block an investigation into an exit ban imposed on a scandal-ridden former vice justice minister in 2019.

Lee refused to comply with the subpoenas, repeating his demand that the case be transferred to the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials (CIO), his lawyer said.

In a statement to the prosecution, he cited a provision in the CIO law that stipulates crimes by high-level prosecutors should be probed by the agency.

Early this month, the Suwon prosecution office transferred the case to the CIO, which began operation in January to investigate public corruption.

But the CIO returned the case to Suwon, saying it was not ready for full operation, with its hiring process still going on.

This was the fourth time that Lee had refused to appear before Suwon prosecutors.

In March 2019, former Vice Justice Minister Kim Hak-ui was stopped at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, from leaving the country, as prosecutors sought to reinvestigate allegations that he received sexual favors from a local constructor more than a decade ago.

A whistleblower filed a complaint with the state anti-corruption watchdog body in December, saying the travel ban enforced by the justice ministry did not follow due procedures. Kim was not a criminal suspect in any case at that time, and the ministry illegally accessed Kim's travel records, he claimed.

He later filed an additional complaint, claiming the anti-corruption team of the Supreme Prosecutors Office, led by Lee at that time, attempted to dismiss the ongoing probe into the exit ban in July 2019.

Lee denied the allegations, saying he relayed an investigation report on the case from a district prosecution office to the then-prosecution chief and correctly conveyed his order to a related investigation team.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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