Credibility of Prosecutors Suffers a Crushing Blow

      May 08, 2009 12:29

      National Intelligence Service Director Won Sei-hoon has sent one of his officials to meet Lee In-kyu, the chief prosecutor in charge of the bribery case involving former president Roh Moo-hyun, and recommended that Roh be indicted without arrest. The request was apparently made even before Roh was questioned by prosecutors. The NIS has issued a statement saying the report was "groundless," but since prosecutors are not denying it very vehemently, something must have happened.

      Last month, the NIS recommended to prosecutors that they leak the fact that Roh received a W200 million watch as a gift from Taekwang Industry CEO Park Yeon-cha. Prosecutors said they rejected that recommendation, but somebody still leaked it, because it appeared in the media. Prosecutors apparently hoped to use the watch gift as leverage against Roh if he denied the charges brought against him.

      The NIS chief was assistant mayor of Seoul when President Lee Myung-bak was mayor. Won is very well connected in the capital. And if such a person sent an official to deliver his opinion, then whoever heard it would believe it was coming from the top. The NIS bases its decision on what needs to be done to benefit the incumbent administration, not on legal legitimacy.

      Since information gathered by the NIS is used to select people for key positions in government, prosecutors would have found it very difficult to avoid the recommendation of the NIS official. Given that, what the NIS chief did is tantamount to damaging the political neutrality of prosecutors.

      There is also something unusual about the fact that the NIS chief delivered the recommendation directly to the chief prosecutor handling the case, rather than the prosecutor general. Within the prosecution, the Central Investigation Department is said to be strictly committed to principles when it comes to handling the former president. If that's the case, then the NIS chief, rather than the prosecutor general, tried to convince the CID to change the way it handled the case.

      The prosecutor general called his top officials and listened to their wishes and told them that seeking the arrest of the former president would lead to dissent within the police. It's been more than a week since Roh was questioned, but prosecutors have yet to decide how to deal with the ex-president. It is a logical contradiction for prosecutors to file for an arrest warrant, citing the risk of a suspect fleeing or tampering with evidence, long after they questioned a suspect.

      Now, no matter what decision prosecutors make, nobody will be able to look at the decision and say for certain that it was responsible and independently made. Ahead of any major decision, a prosecutor general should go out of his way to keep his distance from the public and make the decision based on the unwavering view that he can live up to it. That is how prosecutors can be protected from outside interference. But while the prosecutor general was busy trying not to step on the toes of any powerful people, the credibility of prosecutors suffered a crushing blow.

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