Lawmakers quiz spy chief over alleged election meddling

SEOUL, Aug. 5 (Yonhap) -- The chief of the state spy agency appeared before a parliamentary investigative committee Monday for questioning over allegations that his agency meddled in last year's presidential election in favor of the ruling party.

The session was closely watched as it was the first time that the chief of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) appeared for questioning in connection with the scandal. It was also the first time that a spy chief had stood as a witness at the National Assembly.

In his opening remarks, NIS chief Nam Jae-joon apologized to the public for "causing concern" over the scandal and promised to regain the people's trust by re-examining his agency's past practices over the course of the parliamentary probe.

The scandal centers on allegations that former NIS chief Won Sei-hoon ordered an online smear campaign to sway public opinion in favor of the ruling party ahead of December's presidential election.

In June, prosecutors indicted Won and then Seoul police chief Kim Yong-pan on charges of illegally intervening in the election.

Nam also asked the ruling and opposition party lawmakers on the investigative committee to help dispel "misunderstandings" about his spy agency's anti-North Korea psychological warfare.

The spy agency has claimed that the alleged smear campaign against then opposition presidential candidate Moon Jae-in was in fact an anti-North Korea campaign.

"The NIS did its best to fulfill its mission of protecting the national interest amid rapidly changing conditions, but we were not able to inform the public in detail for confidentiality and other reasons, and at times, aroused suspicions," Nam said.

The committee received the spy agency's report and questioned the spy chief behind closed doors, citing the sensitivity of the issue.

Opposition parties have called on President Park Geun-hye to dismiss Nam over the scandal and also over his decision in June to declassify and disclose a transcript of the 2007 inter-Korean summit.

The transcript's disclosure fueled a separate scandal surrounding the ruling party's claims that late South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun undermined the country's sovereignty during his summit with then North Korean leader Kim Jong-il by offering to surrender the western maritime border with the North.

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