Cover-up suspected in S.Korean diplomats sex scandal

By Kim So-hyun

SEOUL - THE government is suspected of having kicked leaks of confidential information to a Chinese woman in Shanghai into the long grass, as it learned of her affairs with South Korean diplomats in November.

The consulate in Shanghai sent back two officers who allegedly had inappropriate relationships with the woman, Deng Xinming, to Seoul early November citing "personal problems."

The men identified only by their initials H and K were interrogated two months later by the Justice Ministry and the Prime Minister's Office, and neither was punished.

H had violated regulations to issue a tourist visa to Deng when she already held a spouse visa after marrying a Korean man, but the case was closed as he resigned and fled to China last month.

This is against the rules that ban the government from accepting resignations of officials under internal probes over irregularities.

A division within the Prime Minister's Office in charge of investigating public officials' ethics code violations questioned H, K and another former diplomat with the initial P after receiving a complaint from Deng's husband in December.

The division confirmed the leak of confidential data such as the consulate's visa records and mobile phone numbers of senior officials and politicians to Deng as well as the diplomats' affairs with her, but did no more than quietly inform the ministries they belonged to.

K was found to have given Deng President Lee Myung-bak's itinerary during his visit to Shanghai last May. K is currently working at the Finance Ministry.

The probe into the so-called "Shanghai scandal" is belatedly picking up pace after news reports threw the case into the spotlight Tuesday.

The division under the Prime Minister's Office interrogated Kim Jung-ki, former consul-general in Shanghai, for a second day Wednesday. It is also considering summoning H, K and P for additional questioning.

K disclosed a new piece of evidence Wednesday to support his claim that he was threatened by Deng.

The note, which he said was written by Deng, makes threats to his son's safety.

K met Deng around November 2008 upon his arrival in Shanghai when she helped him when his luggage got caught up at the Chinese customs. He consulted her on preparations for the Shanghai Expo, but got into a fight with her last May over visa issues and has been threatened since, according to K.

Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan said Wednesday that the government plans to launch a joint investigation into the scandal and apologized for the "shameful incident" at the consulate.

Kim's remarks came as lawmakers on the committee on foreign affairs, trade and unification slammed the government for its insufficient prior response to the case.

Ruling and opposition legislators called for a thorough investigation and punishment by the prosecution during the committee meeting Wednesday.

Slack discipline of diplomatic missions also became an issue as the consulate in Shanghai had been caught for visa issuances twice before, according to reports released by the Board of Audit and Inspection in December 2009.