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[Editorial] Blacklist or checklist?

In light of clues to Cheong Wa Dae’s involvement, there should be no sanctuary from investigation

When the prosecution raided the Ministry of Environment last month, it is said to have found documents that amounted to a “blacklist”: evidence that the ministry was compiling information about executives of public organizations under its supervision. Apparently, the ministry was prepared to press them to resign before their terms of office ended and fill their posts with pro-government figures.

On a computer at the ministry, the prosecution is said to have found a folder of “files reported to the minister.” One was titled “Measures concerning executives of public organizations under the ministry.”

Also, the prosecution secured statements from ministry officials indicating that they had reported the documents to the office of the secretary to the president for personnel affairs and had received “orders” from that office.

Former Environment Minister Kim Eun-kyung told prosecutors last month that she did not remember receiving any such reports. But in view of news reports so far -- detailing the evidence in the confiscated documents as well as ministry officials’ statements to prosecutors -- it is hard to rule out the possibility that there was an organized effort to pressure executives at public organizations to tender their resignations.

When Kim Tae-woo, a former prosecution investigator who had been discharged from the presidential office’s inspection team, first raised suspicions about a blacklist, Cheong Wa Dae claimed not to know anything about it. But it broke the silence Tuesday in the face of the news reports, saying there had been a “checklist” as part of its routine oversight procedures.

But in the computer file that the prosecution secured, executives who refused to resign before their terms expired were marked as “targets.” Notes written in the file are said to include references to audits of official expenses for those who refused demands to resign, and to the possibility of pressing charges against them.

Few people would believe these were routine oversight procedures.

On Wednesday, Cheong Wa Dae juxtaposed the ministry’s documents with the blacklist kept by the previous administration in an effort to show that the Moon Jae-in administration’s conduct couldn’t be any further removed from that of its predecessor.

The previous administration’s list was a blacklist, Cheong Wa Dae argued, because it contained the names of civilians for the purpose of excluding them from government support. But the Environment Ministry’s documents were not a blacklist because they did not concern civilians who were not public officials or decisions to cut off government support.

But the ministry kept a list with the intention of taking away its targets’ jobs. Cheong Wa Dae’s explanation sounds like sophistry.

Last year seven applicants for the post of executive auditor of the Korea Environment Corp. passed the document-screening phase of the recruitment process, but all of them failed the interview. The prosecution reportedly uncovered clues that the corporation may have intentionally scuttled the recruitment process because a pro-Moon figure had not passed the document-screening phase. That figure was later appointed chief executive of another corporation affiliated with the ministry. The post in question eventually went to another pro-government figure.

It is hard to believe that this senseless personnel decision was the work of the Environment Ministry alone. The prosecution must clarify who was behind it.

The alleged blacklist has direct bearing on the ethics of the Moon administration. As Moon said on the stump, “A blacklist is a form of state violence that tramples on the foundation of democracy.”

He vowed not to do what he called such a “wicked thing.” After he was elected president, all those involved in the blacklisting of cultural figures were put behind bars.

With each change of government, the executives of public organizations tend to be replaced, but it is not right to press them to resign against their wills before their terms end.

If the Moon government wants us to believe it is different from those of the past, it should have made efforts not to engage in this erroneous practice.

In the matter of “blacklisting,” an organized cover-up is suspected. Not only the Environment Ministry but also Cheong Wa Dae needs to be investigated. The prosecution must not stop its investigation at the level of former Minister Kim. There ought to be no sanctuary from this investigation, and both the ministry and Cheong Wa Dae must cooperate.