The presidential office said Friday it has filed a complaint against a former spokesperson for the Defense Ministry for libel, accusing him of making a false claim that its decision to relocate President Yoon Suk Yeol's residence to Yongsan, central Seoul, was linked to a fortune teller whom the opposition party suspects the president of having ties with.
The office also sued for libel two other reporters -- from News Tomato and Hankook Ilbo -- for writing about the ex-spokesman's claim without fact-checking. Defamatory libel is a criminal offense in South Korea. It is the first time for Yoon's presidential office to seek criminal charges against a journalist since his term started in May last year.
The decision was made after a book was published by Boo Seung-chan, the former Defense Ministry spokesman, in which he claimed that the fortune teller, known as Cheongong, was involved when Yoon was considering locations for his presidential residence and office in March last year.
"Fake news continues to circulate, and Boo and two reporters published (false claims) of the book without verifying the facts,“ the presidential office said, calling the claim of Cheongong's involvement a groundless rumor.
“Anyone can raise suspicions as long as it is based on fair and reasonable evidence. However, whoever raises a suspicion should be able to verify the facts with evidence and witnesses.”
The relocation of the presidential office to Yongsan came as part of Yoon's campaign promises. In the face of criticism from his predecessor Moon Jae-in and the opposition party, Yoon pushed for the relocation of the presidential office and opened Cheong Wa Dae, where both the office and residence for the president had long been, to the public.