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Uncertainty mounts over spy agency probe

2013/08/13 14:19

SEOUL, Aug. 13 (Yonhap) -- Two key witnesses in a parliamentary probe into the state spy agency's alleged meddling in last year's presidential election appear set to avoid appearing for hearings, casting doubts over the future of the investigation.

Former National Intelligence Service (NIS) chief Won Sei-hoon and former Seoul police chief Kim Yong-pan were scheduled to appear for hearings before the parliamentary investigative committee on Wednesday, but both have informed the committee that they would like to postpone their appearances, according to parliamentary sources.

The probe, which began early last month, aims to uncover the truth behind allegations that Won had ordered an online smear campaign to sway public opinion in favor of the ruling Saenuri Party ahead of December's presidential election.

Kim has been accused of reducing the scope of a police investigation into the scandal.

The former spy chief cited poor health, while the former police chief cited a court hearing on the same day as reasons for not being able to appear for the hearings, the sources said.

Both witnesses are currently on trial on charges of meddling in the election.

"If the witnesses fail to appear (on Wednesday), we should immediately issue an order (compelling them to show up) and reschedule the hearing for Friday, but the Saenuri Party is extremely negative about that," Rep. Jung Chung-rai of the main opposition Democratic Party (DP) said in a radio interview earlier in the day.

The rival parties have wrangled for weeks over various terms of the probe, including who should stand as witnesses.

The opposition party took to the streets early this month to protest what it claimed was the ruling party's attempt to sabotage the investigation.

The DP has since held public rallies and taken part in candlelight vigils organized by civic groups, demanding President Park Geun-hye apologize over the scandal.

"It is the two witnesses' duty before the people to appear for the hearings and approach them with sincerity," Rep. Choi Kyoung-hwan, the floor leader of the ruling party, said at a party meeting. "I understand that they may have personal circumstances and difficulties, but I ask them to cooperate from a broad standpoint."