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(LEAD) Rival parties reschedule key hearing in spy agency probe

2013/08/14 17:36

(ATTN: CHANGES headline; UPDATES paras 1-2, 12-13 with rescheduling of hearing; RESTRUCTURES)

SEOUL, Aug. 14 (Yonhap) -- Rival political parties agreed Wednesday to reschedule a hearing in a parliamentary probe into the state spy agency's alleged meddling in last year's presidential election after two key witnesses failed to show up on schedule.

The witnesses -- former National Intelligence Service (NIS) chief Won Sei-hoon and former Seoul police chief Kim Yong-pan -- were expected to appear before the parliamentary investigative committee Wednesday, but neither showed up after informing the committee earlier this week that they would like to postpone their appearances.

Won cited poor health, while Kim cited a court hearing on the same day. Both are currently on trial on charges of meddling in December's presidential election.

The main opposition Democratic Party (DP) immediately demanded the ruling Saenuri Party agree to issue an order compelling the two witnesses to appear for hearings on Friday.

The ruling party expressed objections, citing an agreement between the parties that witnesses who do not attend their scheduled hearings can appear on the last day of the hearings next Wednesday.

"We denounce together with the people the fact that the two witnesses did not appear for the hearings for reasons that can't even be called reasons," Rep. Jung Chung-rai, the DP leader on the investigative committee, said at the start of a committee meeting.

He also questioned whether the Saenuri Party had done its best to ensure the witnesses' appearances, citing the bipartisan agreement.

"The Saenuri Party also expresses strong regret at the two witnesses' failure to appear (for the hearings)," said Rep. Kwon Seong-dong, the ruling party leader on the committee.

"The DP's claims that make it sound as if it is the ruling party's fault that the witnesses did not show up are completely untrue," he added, showing a text message he had sent to Won's attorney to request the former spy chief's appearance.

The rival parties also disputed the meaning of their bilateral agreement, which calls for immediately issuing an order for the two witnesses' appearance and filing charges against them if they fail to attend the hearings.

The DP insisted that the committee immediately issue the order, while the Saenuri Party noted that the agreement calls for taking such measures in accordance with relevant laws, not unconditionally.

The ruling party later accepted the DP's demand and agreed at the committee meeting to hold another hearing on Friday exclusively for Won and Kim.

They also agreed to issue an order for their appearance.

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

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



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