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Rival parties sparring over inspection into spy agency

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

SEOUL, June 16 (Yonhap) -- The ruling and main opposition parties are engaged in a tug of war over the timing of a parliamentary inspection into the nation's top intelligence agency following the conclusion of a prosecution investigation into allegations that the agency meddled in last year's presidential election, party sources said Sunday.

Wrapping up the two-month probe, the prosecution indicted Won Sei-hoon, a former head of the National Intelligence Service (NIS), without physical detention on Friday. He is suspected of ordering an online smear campaign against opposition candidates to sway public opinion in favor of the ruling party prior to the Dec. 19 election.

The prosecution concluded that he had slandered liberal candidates and praised conservative President Park Geun-hye, the then ruling party's candidate. She eventually defeated then-main opposition candidate Moon Jae-in and took office in February.

In March, the floor leaders of the governing Saenuri Party and the main opposition Democratic Party (DP) agreed to kick off a parliamentary inspection into the case immediately after the conclusion of the prosecution investigation.

The DP insists that the National Assembly start an immediate probe into the scandal, saying the prosecution has finished its probe into the NIS case.

In a recent party meeting, Rep. Chun Byung-hun, the DP floor leader, called on the ruling party to deliver on the March agreement.

Rep. Shin Kyoung-min, who heads the DP's task force on the spy agency scandal, told Yonhap News Agency by phone that "there are no legal and political reasons to delay the parliamentary investigation, and the ruling party would be an accomplice of the NIS if it refuses to start an immediate parliamentary inspection."

The ruling party, however, is reluctant to accept the opposition demand, arguing the prosecution has yet to conclude its investigation into other suspicions surrounding the scandal.

"The spy agency's online smear campaign was neither intended to help Park win the election nor sway the results of the poll," a senior party official said. "In addition, an investigation should be conducted into the DP's illegal activity surrounding the case."

The spy agency scandal erupted days before the Dec. 19 election. Acting on a tip that a female NIS employee had been working at her superior's orders to slander Moon and manipulate public opinion from an office in southern Seoul, DP party members blocked her from leaving the office for days.

The ruling party contends that the DP had violated the human rights of the NIS employee by forcing her to stay in the office.

In a meeting with reporters, Moon said he is "enraged by the NIS case," and called for Park's efforts to reform the spy agency and the prosecution.

"I think Park should hold herself responsible for the case. But it is too late and undesirable to blame her for the election results," Moon said.

"I think her duty now will be dealing with the case in a stern manner and taking it as a chance to set the NIS and the prosecution right," he added.

Neither President Park nor her office has yet to give any official response to the probe results, but one of her closest aides took a cautious posture.

"Due to its contentious nature, I think we have to wait until the court makes a ruling," the official simply said, requesting anonymity.

"Park has a resolute will to reform the spy agency before the investigation into this case. I am quite sure that efforts to reform it have begun upon Park's taking office," he added.

Meanwhile, the DP said it had received a tip-off that Kim Yong-pan, the former head of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, had been ordered to disrupt a police probe into the scandal. Kim was indicted without physical detention on Friday on suspicion of abusing his authority by pressuring police investigators to scale down their probe.

"We received a tip that there was a wirepuller behind Kim's meddling in the police investigation," Rep. Park Young-sun, a DP lawmaker and head of the National Assembly's Legislation and Judiciary Committee, said in a news conference.

The lawmaker, however, failed to disclose who was behind it.

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