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Probe over spy agency expands to alleged artist blacklist

2017/09/12 15:23

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SEOUL, Sept. 12 (Yonhap) -- The government of former conservative President Lee Myung-bak is suspected of blacklisting left-leaning cultural figures and mobilizing the National Intelligence Service (NIS) to disadvantage them in various ways, an NIS reform task force said Tuesday.

The task force was set up after the inauguration of liberal President Moon Jae-in in May and has asked prosecutors to launch an investigation into allegations that the NIS created a list of TV celebrities and artists to persecute them for their critical stance toward the Lee government.

Celebrities included in a blacklist of cultural figures allegedly created during the Lee Myung-bak government (Yonhap) Celebrities included in a blacklist of cultural figures allegedly created during the Lee Myung-bak government (Yonhap)

The allegation drew attention as a top aide of ousted President Park Geun-hye, Lee's successor, received a three-year jail term in late July for blacklisting thousands of cultural figures considered critical of the Park government and excluding them from state subsidy programs.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office said Monday it received a formal request from the NIS to look into its former chief Won Sei-hoon and a ranking NIS official named Kim Joo-sung on possible charges of being involved in the blacklisting of cultural figures during Lee's rule from 2008 to 2013.

The two former NIS officials are accused of setting up a team in charge of documenting anti-government figures, and of exerting influence on government agencies and media companies to weed them out -- violations of the laws on abuse of power -- according to task force officials.

The artists were labeled as "left-leaning" and banned from appearing on TV programs or in films. Under Won's direction, it also ran a secret online campaign mainly aimed at tainting their reputations and accusing them of being pro-North Korea. Won led the NIS from 2009-2013.

The NIS also allegedly induced the state tax agency to conduct an audit on the entertainment companies that had contracts with the artists. It pressured a public broadcaster to suspend some blacklisted artists from hosting a radio program or to close down certain shows.

Won has already been convicted of orchestrating a massive smear campaign during the 2012 presidential election to sway votes in favor of the ruling party candidate Park Geun-hye.

Park succeeded Lee after his five-year term ended in early 2013. Won's case is ongoing, pending the top court's verdict.

The blacklisting of left-leaning artists and cultural figures was prevalent during Park's rule.

Park's top aide and her culture minister both stood trial for keeping a separate artist blacklist during her term, with only the former found guilty of the charges.

The prosecution's probe now draws attention to the issue of expanding the scope of the investigation further to eventually target former President Lee Myung-bak and his staff.

The blacklist scandal involving Park's staff was one of the catalysts that triggered massive street protests by citizens calling for her impeachment. The disgraced leader was removed from office by a Constitutional Court ruling in March and is standing trial for corruption and abuse of power.