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SEOUL, March 23 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's former government intelligence chief Won Sei-hoon has been barred from leaving the country pending investigation into allegations that he had interfered in domestic politics while in office, government sources said Saturday.
Won, who served as the National Intelligence Service (NIS) chief under the previous government of President Lee Myung-bak, has been sued by several labor and civic groups for interfering in domestic politics by trying to manipulate public opinions ahead of last year's presidential race.
After his plan to leave Seoul Sunday for an extended trip to the United States was known, opposition parties denounced it as a deliberate attempt by the ex-intelligence chief to avoid the prosecution's probe.
According to multiple government sources, the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office, which handles the case, has recently requested a government ban on Won's overseas travel, which the Justice Ministry has accepted.
The dispute arose after a low-level NIS agent was caught using various Internet identities to attack the then main opposition presidential hopeful Moon Jae-in in the lead up to the Dec. 19 poll.
Conservative ruling party candidate Park Geun-hye eventually won the race and took office late last month as the country's female first head of state.
"If he leaves the country for an overseas travel, it can only be to avoid being asked about questions raised in relation to several charges that have been leveled against him," the main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP) said in a statement.
DUP spokeswoman Kim Hyun said that Won's plan to leave the country less than three days after he left office can only be construed as an attempt to run away.
"It's unprecedented that a top government official who had access to the highest national intelligence leaves the country and stays overseas for an extended period of time," she said.
The opposition lawmaker said the ex-spy chief should be barred from leaving the country, so he can answer questions raised against him.
Won and the NIS have said there was nothing illegal about the agency's operations.
The minor opposition Progressive Justice Party also said that Won's plan to stay outside of the country can be construed as trying to help the incumbent Park administration.
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