Prosecution opens probe into disclosure of Roh's summit remarks

SEOUL, June 24 (Yonhap) -- Prosecutors said Monday they began looking into allegations that a group of ruling party lawmakers illegally read and disclosed classified documents containing excerpts of late President Roh Moo-hyun's remarks from his 2007 summit with late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il about a sensitive defense issue.

The documents have been the subject of intense wrangling between rival political parties since a ruling party lawmaker claimed in October of last year that Roh had told Kim during the meeting in Pyongyang six years ago that Seoul would not insist on the Yellow Sea border, called the Northern Limit Line (NLL), which Pyongyang refuses to recognize as a legitimate maritime border.

Chung Moon-hun of the ruling Saenuri Party claimed to have read the National Intelligence Service's (NIS) classified documents on the alleged conversation between the two deceased leaders.

The documents first came under scrutiny by prosecutors after main opposition party lawmakers referred Chung to the prosecution for disclosing the content of what they call presidential records. By law, presidential records are strictly restricted from public access and prohibited from being disclosed.

Wrapping up the investigation into the allegations, prosecutors in February concluded that the transcripts are not presidential but public records as they were drawn up and stored by the NIS before being designated as restricted access records. They also did not charge Chung, saying that his remarks cannot be viewed as false information.

Prosecutors, however, did not clarify whether the former liberal president actually had made the remarks.

Nearly four months after the probe's outcome, the allegations have been rekindled by political parties.

On Friday, the main opposition Democratic Party (DP) filed legal action against five Saenuri lawmakers, NIS chief Nam Jae-joon and the first deputy chief Han Ki-beom, with the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office for reading the classified transcripts.

"We will thoroughly investigate the case according to the law and principles," a prosecutor in charge of the case said Monday, requesting not to be named.

The DP insists that the documents are part of the official records left by the former president.

Prosecutors, meanwhile, are likely to once again conclude that the transcripts are public records, which means that the investigation will be focused on whether the seven violated the law by disclosing them.

Under South Korean law, records in the presidential archive cannot be opened unless two-thirds of the country's 300 lawmakers agree or during extraordinary circumstances. Other classified public records can be viewed conditionally upon requests from heads of government offices but are still banned from disclosure. The NIS said its disclosure of excerpts of the summit transcript followed this clause and therefore was legal.

The NIS, meanwhile, said that it has decided to make public the summit's original transcripts as controversy continues over Roh's alleged remarks and both the ruling and opposition parties called for its disclosure. The agency said it will deliver the transcripts to members of the parliamentary intelligence committee later Monday.

North Korea has never recognized the NLL, which was unilaterally drawn by the U.S.-led United Nations Command at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. The North demands that the line be redrawn farther south.

A number of bloody inter-Korean clashes have occurred near the border. The two sides fought naval gun battles in the area in 1999, 2002 and 2009. In 2010, the North torpedoed a South Korean warship in the area and shelled a South Korean border island.

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