Wiretapping scandal in South Korea

Two former chiefs of South Korea's intelligence agency were indicted Friday on charges of supervising the illegal wiretapping of telephone conversations of the country's business and political leaders, prosecutors said. Lim Dong-won and Shin Gunn, who headed the National Intelligence Service successively between December 1999 and April 2003, are suspected of overseeing the agency's monitoring of mobile phone conversations of about 1,800 of South Korea's political, corporate and media elite, the Seoul District Prosecutors' Office said.

Lim, 71, and Shin, 64, have been in custody after being arrested last month. Both men have denied any wrongdoing. The wiretapping scandal began in July following revelations of an alleged 1997 conversation between Hong Seok-hyun, then publisher of the mass-circulation JoongAng Ilbo newspaper, and Lee Hak-soo, a top executive with Samsung Group, the country's largest industrial conglomerate. In the conversation, the two purportedly discussed providing illicit campaign funds to candidates in the 1997 presidential race, won by former dissident Kim Dae-jung. Lim and Shin headed the agency under Kim, who ordered an end to wiretaps and has denied knowledge of the practice during his administration.

Hong, a brother-in-law of Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee, resigned as South Korea's ambassador to the United States in September over the scandal. Hong appeared before prosecutors for questioning last month. Both the spy agency and Samsung have offered apologies to the nation over the scandal. The extensive wiretappings, dubbed the "X-files" by South Korean media, revealed not only problems with the agency, but also collusion between top conglomerates and politicians _ one of the inveterate ills of South Korean politics. Family-controlled conglomerates, or chaebol, used to give large and illegal sums of money, described as "insurance," to both ruling and opposition candidates, reports the AP. N.U.

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