Blue House official claims Yoon “reprimanded” Marine Corps investigator

Blue House official claims Yoon “reprimanded” Marine Corps investigator

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)

The investigation into the handling of the death of a marine during a flood rescue operation last year took a new turn after a senior Blue House official essentially admitted President Yoon Seok-youl’s involvement.

Questioning of Blue House officials and Yoon himself now seems inevitable, even if only to ascertain the exact content of his orders.

In a telephone interview with the Hankyoreh last Friday, a senior Blue House official said, “The Marine Corps investigation team does not have the authority to investigate and has issued a long list of suspects in violation of the provisions of the Military Court Act, so I believe the president reprimanded them and instructed them to improve.”

According to the explanation, Yoon issued the instructions at a meeting at the Blue House on the morning of July 31, 2023. After hearing the report on the findings of the Marine Corps investigation team, which included accusations against former commander of the 1st Marine Division, Lim Seong-geun, the source claimed he issued the instructions calling for corrective measures.

The emergence of various pieces of evidence and eyewitness accounts, including an earlier Hankyoreh report that attendees at a Blue House meeting on July 31 told ruling People Power Party officials that Yoon had “lost his temper,” appears to have prompted the Blue House to adopt a new defense after it could no longer deny speculation about the president’s rage.

The question is whether the president has the power to overturn the decisions of military investigative agencies.

According to the Military Police Duties Act, the chief of staff of each military branch directs or supervises the duties of the military police in its branches. In the Marine Corps, the Commandant of the Marine Corps oversees the general duties of the Marine Investigative Teams.

In the case of the incident in question, specific command authority for the incident appears to have been entrusted to Park Jeong-hoon, former head of the Marine investigation team, so the specific instructions must be confirmed to determine whether Yoon will be charged with abuse of power or obstruction of power.

To reach this conclusion, questioning of Minister Yoon’s instructions on July 31 of last year seems unavoidable. It will also be necessary to investigate the contents of the three phone calls he made with then-Defense Minister Lee Jong-seop on August 2 of the following year. As a part of this process, Minister Yoon himself, as a direct party involved, will likely need to be questioned.

However, since there is no precedent for an investigative agency summoning a sitting president for questioning, it is highly likely that the actual questioning will be conducted through written statements or a meeting with the president.

The Blue House downplayed the significance of the official’s remarks, calling them a “personal opinion” and insisting they were not the official position of the Blue House.

Commenting on the phone call between Yoon and Lee regarding the case, a senior Blue House official said on Sunday, “It is the Blue House’s consistent position that this is an issue that should be clarified through an investigation by the High Official Corruption Investigation Office.”

The official said comments by other officials were “purely personal opinions, with a great deal of speculation.”

“It would be inappropriate to comment on the matter as it is currently under investigation by the CIO and any reference by the Office of the President may serve as an investigative guideline,” they explained.

Reporters Jeong Kwang-jun and Lee Seung-jun

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