Jang Ja-yeon Probe Must Not Fizzle Out

      April 17, 2009 13:30

      On July 10, 2002, the criminal investigation unit of the Seoul District Prosecutor's Office launched a full-scale investigation into allegations of corruption and misconduct in the Korean entertainment industry. Prosecutors indicted nine broadcast industry figures for taking bribes and other gifts from entertainment agencies and began investigating allegations of sex for favors between actresses and influential figures.

      This drew intense public attention to the matter. But on Aug. 24 the same year, Kim Kyu-hun, the head prosecutor of the case, was transferred to the Chungju prosecutor's office. The investigative team, which included seven low-ranking prosecutors alone, was dismantled and the probe ended. On Sept. 24, Grand National Party lawmaker Hong Joon-pyo claimed during a National Assembly audit of the Seoul prosecutor's office that three ruling Democratic Party lawmakers had been implicated in the sex-for-favors scandals, and it was pressure from powerful figures to halt the probe that led the head of the investigative team to be transferred.

      Kim in an interview with the Chosun Ilbo on Wednesday said he was transferred because he refused to tone down his probe despite intense pressure. He said when he began investigating politicians, influential government officials and corporate CEOs, he was swamped with phone calls from high-ranking government officials and from people in the Justice Ministry warning him that he would be hurt if he did not back off.

      One high-ranking government official, who became a minister later on, is said to have even visited Kim's office to tell him to back off. Kim said his transfer was like removing a general in the middle of a war, and at least another six months was needed for his team to conduct an investigation that ended in just a month and a half.

      Kim's testimony provides a fresh angle at the ongoing investigation of the suicide of actress Jang Ja-yeon, and the reason it is dragging on without progress 40 days after her death. The head of the entertainment agency that managed Jang is hiding out in Japan. The same man fled to Hong Kong when he was implicated in the 2002 probe. Kim said he already back then heard that the agency head was notorious for building up his contacts with powerful figures, so many people in the same business complained that he was making the whole industry dirty. 

      The level of contacts he maintained is surfacing seven years later through the police investigation and through media reports. He had connections beyond the entertainment industry stretching into virtually every field. It is only natural for people to become suspicious that there are powerful forces blocking the present investigation. The truth can be revealed by questioning this man as well as Jang's former manager Yoo Jang-ho. But police are saying there is no way to bring him back to Seoul quickly.

      So far, police have failed to soothe the pain felt by Jang's surviving family members. They have failed to single out the guilty and they have also failed to clear the victim of false accusations. If police try to wrap up this investigation without getting to the bottom of the case as they did seven years ago, then law enforcement officials will lose credibility for good.

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