The foreign ministry said Tuesday it will file criminal complaints against one of its officials and an opposition lawmaker for leaking the content of a phone conversation between President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump.
The diplomat, who worked at the South Korean Embassy in Washington, D.C., was accused of telling Rep. Khang Hyo-shang of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) what was discussed during the May 7 phone call between the two leaders.
"Considering the gravity of the matter, we have decided to file the complaint against the official for leaking the classified information, and Rep. Khang for being the direct cause," the ministry said in a message to reporters.
The ministry is expected to deliver later this week the result of its disciplinary panel for the diplomat and another from the same embassy, whose identities were withheld. They will likely face one of the sternest measures, including dismissals.
A separate higher-level official at the Washington embassy has also been referred to the central government's disciplinary committee for lax management, the ministry said.
The diplomat acknowledged the wrongdoing but denied he had any intent to blemish the government's foreign policy.
In a statement released by his lawyer, he claimed he handed over the confidential information at the lawmaker's insistence that he would only use it as a background reference and keep it to no one but himself.
The diplomat said he revealed the details to Khang in the first place because the lawmaker expressed doubt about Trump's possible visit to Seoul in May and asked him if he had any information to counter it.
Khang also asked him to confirm and provide him with details to prove if Trump had really approved South Korea's push for food aid to North Korea.
"I was going to tell him about it after I rephrase the content of the conversation, but I was running late with my work schedule and mistakenly told him the exact expressions (used in the talks) as I had to explain it to him quickly," he said in a statement released by his lawyer.
The diplomat denied strongly that he knew Khang would hold a press conference for that and use it as a tool for political strife, let alone turning it into evidence to "undermine Moon's U.S. policy."
In the phone talks, Moon reportedly asked Trump to visit Seoul immediately after his May 25-28 trip to Japan, and Trump proposed a short stop in Seoul on his way back home from Tokyo.
Khang disclosed the conversation early this month, accusing Moon of "begging" for Trump to visit.
The diplomat added that he barely knew the lawmaker apart from meeting him at a few alumni events and meetings in Washington afterward. He went to the same high school as Khang. He also added that he is fully ready to take responsibility for the misconduct.