South Korea is investigating several diplomats accused of trading government documents for sex with a Chinese woman while posted at the country's consulate in Shanghai, officials said Wednesday.
The scandal _ only the latest for President Lee Myung-bak's administration _ was splashed across South Korean newspapers Wednesday after the Foreign Ministry and the prime minister's office said they were probing at least four officials, including the former consul general.
The mass-circulation Dong-a Ilbo newspaper reported that South Korean diplomats are believed to have given the woman a list of telephone numbers of top South Korean officials and politicians, including President Lee.
An official in the prime minister's office said it had not yet determined whether such information had been passed or even if any of the documents were confidential.
The JoongAng Ilbo newspaper cited a South Korean official as saying that the exposure of high-level information was slim since the consulate in Shanghai deals with few state secrets.
The newspaper's editorial page, however, sounded the alarm anyway.
"What has been revealed so far may be just the tip of the iceberg," the JoongAng Ilbo said in an editorial Wednesday. "The government should now take steps to investigate and correct the moral standards of our diplomats."
The officials are also accused of using their influence to help Chinese citizens _ picked by the woman _ get South Korean visas more quickly, the official said on condition of anonymity because the investigation was still under way.
Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan said the probe began after the government received a tip, but he did not elaborate. South Korean media reported that the Chinese woman's South Korean husband, a businessman, alerted government authorities late last year.
Kim said the government also planned to launch an investigation into the entire Shanghai consulate.
"I'm apologizing for causing the people anxieties over an unsavory incident," Kim told lawmakers during a parliamentary committee meeting.
The scandal is a new headache for Lee's government, whose single five-year term ends in early 2013.
Earlier this week, a parliamentary committee decided to delay debating a free trade agreement between South Korea and the European Union after errors in the accord's Korean-language version were found. And police last month began a probe into a mysterious break-in at the Seoul hotel room of a visiting Indonesian official amid widespread speculation that South Korean spies had unsuccessfully tried to steal documents about a possible arms deal.