The military will launch a joint team with the prosecution to investigate a set of alleged misdeeds by a defense intelligence unit, officials said Monday, with the probe set to target civilians, such as military and government retirees.
The team will look into the allegations that the Defense Security Command (DSC) drew up a document on the possible invocation of martial law last year to quash public protests if they unleashed unrest after a ruling on the fate of then corruption-tainted President Park Geun-hye.
It will also investigate the suspicion that the command spied on the families of the victims of the deadly Sewol ferry disaster in 2014 that laid bare the former government's ineptitude in crisis management.
"The decision (over the joint team) was made in light of the significance of the situation where there has been public speculation, and of the need for cooperation with the prosecution given that civilians are on the list of key figures subject to the probe," the defense ministry said in a press release.
"We will form the joint team led by the co-leaders representing the two organizations at an early date," it added.
On Sunday, Defense Minister Song Young-moo and Justice Minister Park Sang-ki met and agreed to the formation of the team, a source said.
The justice ministry also released a separate press release.
"As the speculation is spreading, the need to verify the truth is greater than at any other time. Considering that key figures in the case are civilians, it is crucial to launch a joint probe between the military and prosecution," the ministry said.
Those likely to face investigation include then-DSC Cmdr. Cho Hyun-chun, then-Defense Minister Han Min-koo and Kim Kwan-jin, chief of the presidential National Security Office, at the time. All three are currently civilians.
The probe team, if launched, will be the third of its kind. The military and prosecution ran combined teams to probe corruption scandals involving military draftees and defense contractors in 1999 and 2014, respectively.
The focus of their probe is expected to be who directed the DSC to produce the controversial document and whether it really had an intention to put into action the alleged plans to mobilize military assets to quell civilian protests.
After its perusal of the DSC document last week, the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae claimed that it contained detailed plans to hold sway over media, the spy agency and even the parliament.
The martial law case has drawn the ire of the public, as critics say that the use of the military to handle public rallies runs counter to democratic principles, and that it could mark another case of political interference by the military.
Some even called the DSC document part of preparations for a military rebellion, while conservatives argue that the military is entitled to craft measures to prepare for any scenario that could compromise national security. (yonhap)