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Prosecutors seek suspension of ex-chief investigator in election-meddling probe: sources

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

SEOUL, Nov. 9 (Yonhap) -- State prosecutors are seeking to suspend a senior prosecutor who led an investigation team probing a high-profile election-meddling scandal involving the state spy agency, prosecution sources said on Saturday.

They said the inspection committee at the Supreme Public Prosecutors' Office will ask the Ministry of Justice on Monday to suspend Yoon Seok-youl for three months.

Yoon was dismissed last month from a prosecution investigation team looking into allegations that the National Intelligence Service (NIS) agents wrote comments on message boards of major portal sites during last year's presidential election, in an apparent smear campaign to swing public opinion in favor of President Park Geun-hye, then the ruling party candidate.

Officials had explained at the time that Yoon had failed to report to his seniors before pressing additional charges in the case and detaining some NIS agents suspected of involvement.

Yoon later argued that the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office chief, Cho Young-kon, impeded the investigation, a charge that Cho has denied. Yoon also claimed that the justice ministry had clashed with his investigation team over filing charges against ex-NIS chief Won Sei-hoon and other agents allegedly linked to the scandal.

Yoon also said his unit was under pressure from the ministry to soft-pedal the case, prompting Justice Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn to issue a public denial.

According to the sources, Park Hyung-cheol, deputy head of Yoon's investigation team, will face a paycut for his role in the team's failure to report to senior prosecutors.

On the other hand, Cho Young-kon will not face any penalties, despite allegations of applying pressure on Yoon and his investigators. According to the sources, the inspection committee decided that it was difficult to corroborate Yoon's claim of Cho's meddling in the NIS investigation.

These decisions by the Supreme Public Prosecutors' Office drew mixed reactions from rival political parties. The ruling Saenuri Party said Yoon deserves to be penalized for neglecting to take proper steps during his investigation, while Cho honored his responsibilities and was justly let off the hook.

The main opposition Democratic Party (DP) said it is "bizarre" that Yoon will face suspension for actively leading the NIS investigation. The party has previously argued that Yoon's dismissal from his team was a politically motivated attempt to blunt the NIS investigation.

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