[Exclusive] Yoon called the defense minister three times on the day Marine’s case was handed over to the police.

[Exclusive] Yoon called the defense minister three times on the day Marine’s case was handed over to the police.


President Yoon Seok-yeol and former Minister of National Defense Lee Jong-seop. (Yonhap News Agency)

President Yoon Seok-yeol and former Minister of National Defense Lee Jong-seop. (Yonhap News Agency)

According to call records reviewed by the Hankyoreh, on the day that the findings of the Marine Corps investigation team into the death of a young Marine surnamed Choi were handed over to the police and then withdrawn, President Yoon Seok-yeol made three direct phone calls to then-Defense Minister Lee Jong-sopp.

Yoon then called Lee directly again six days later, the day before Lee decided to transfer the case to the Ministry of National Defense’s Criminal Investigation Headquarters. The evidence that Yoon called Lee every time the case entered a new investigation stage suggests that the president may have been directly involved in handling the case.

According to Lee Jong-seop’s August 2023 call records obtained and reviewed by the Hankyoreh on Tuesday, Yoon called Lee for the first time at 12:07 pm on Aug. 2 using the same cell phone he had been using since his days as a prosecutor. The call lasted four minutes and five seconds, and took place 17 minutes after the Marine Corps investigation team submitted a report to the North Gyeongsang Provincial Police Agency charging eight people, including Lim Seong-geun, commander of the 1st Marine Division, with professional negligence resulting in death.

Yoon called Lee a second time at 12:43 pm, lasting 13 minutes and 43 seconds, and a third time at 12:57 pm, lasting 52 seconds. At 12:45 pm, between the second and third calls, the head of the Marine Corps investigation team, Col. Park Jeong-hoon, was informed he was being relieved of duty.

Six days later, on Aug. 8, at 7:55 a.m., Yoon used the same cell phone to call Lee and the conversation lasted for 33 seconds. The call came one day before Lee, who was then the Minister of Defense, decided to report the findings of the Marine Corps investigation team to the Ministry of National Defense’s Criminal Investigation Command.

Lee also received a 168-second phone call from a landline at the Blue House on July 31, 2023, the same day as a National Security Council meeting at the Blue House, where the president reportedly became “furious.”

At 11:54 a.m. on July 31, 2023, Lee answered the phone from the presidential office’s phone number 02-800 and spoke for 168 seconds. The National Security Council meeting that is said to have angered the president was held from 11 a.m. to noon that day, and the phone call was made at the end of the meeting.

At 11:57 a.m., 14 seconds after the phone call, President Lee used his aide’s mobile phone to call Marine Corps Commander Kim Kye-hwan and instructed him to cancel the press conference and suspend the transfer of the case. In response to President Yoon’s anger, someone from the Blue House called President Lee, and after this call, an order was given to suspend the transfer of Choi’s case to the police.

The Blue House’s involvement was also revealed in phone records of Park Jin-hee, the military advisor to the Minister of National Defense. At 2:07 pm, some two hours after the investigation results were handed over to the police, Park spoke directly with Lim Ki-hoon, who was the Blue House’s defense secretary. Minister of National Defense Yoon, the Defense Minister’s Office, and the National Security Office were all in direct contact regarding Chae’s case.

The High-Level Official Corruption Investigation Office, which obtained the call records in question, is currently investigating what instructions Yoon and other Blue House officials gave to the Ministry of National Defense at the time, and whether those instructions were appropriate.

Reporters Bae Ji-hyun and Oh Yeon-seo

Questions or comments? [english@hani.co.kr]



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