Dispute over presidential documents arises

By Yi Whan-woo

A controversy is brewing over Cheong Wa Dae’s move to transfer presidential documents to the National Archives for preservation following Park Geun-hye’s removal from office.

Opposition lawmakers claim Park’s former aides who are still working at the presidential office may attempt to prevent the prosecution from obtaining evidence of the scandal that led to her impeachment.

Officials have begun sorting out documents that are worthy of being preserved as historical records. The documents, once they are sorted, will be moved and stored in the Presidential Archives, which is run by the National Archives. By law, presidential records can be sealed for up to 30 years and access to them is restricted accordingly.

Although the presidential office explained that this work will be done in a fair manner, opposition parties and some analysts suspect that Cheong Wa Dae may be covering up or destroying evidence related to the scandal.

They also refuted the National Archive’s view that acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn should be given the right to determine and designate documents subject to historical preservation on behalf of Park.

They claimed that Hwang may exploit this in favor of Park, adding that the National Assembly should instead be given the right.

Saying that the transfer process takes several months, some critics called on the prosecution to “preemptively” search and seize evidence at Cheong Wa Dae as well as Park’s residence in Samseong-dong, southern Seoul.

They raised concerns that Park may have illegally taken some documents containing information about the allegations against her when she returned to her home in Samseong-dong, Sunday.

“Most of the presidential records are believed to be evidence that is essential to prove Park’s crimes,” said main opposition Democratic Party of Korea chief spokesman Rep. Youn Kwan-suk. “Acting President Hwang should not cooperate in designating such evidence as classified information to help Park cover up evidence concerning the scandal.”

Citing the handing over of presidential documents to Park’s confidant Choi Soon-sil, Lim Sang-kyung, a former head of the Presidential Archives, raised suspicion that certain evidence may have been destroyed already.

Lim speculated that a number of documents were produced without using authorized computers during Park’s presidency.

“It’s possible they were scrapped or taken outside the presidential office,” Lim said. “The chances will be higher if those documents only existed in printed form.”

The special investigation team looking into the scandal is considering searching Cheong Wa Dae before the transfer process is completed, according to legal sources.

The National Archives reiterated its view concerning Hwang’s rights.

“A president has such rights, and the term ‘president’ can include an acting president and a president-elect,” it said.

The Prime Minister’s Office said Hwang will make a decision after consulting Cheong Wa Dae.

Presidential office officials said they were speeding up the transfer process because they did not predict Park’s removal from office and were not ready to cope with it. They said previous governments usually began the process six months before the president’s term ended.

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