Are Prosecutors Free from Blame in Roh's Death?

      May 25, 2009 12:44

      Delays in the bribery investigation by prosecutors and their decisions are blamed for playing a role in former president Roh Moo-hyun's suicide. Prosecutors began their investigation on April 7 with the arrest of Chung Sang-moon, the former presidential secretary for general affairs. They stalled for time, sending a list of questions to Roh, and it was not until April 30, 23 days later, that they finally summoned Roh for questioning. After prosecutors questioned Roh and until he committed suicide, 23 days had passed while no decision was made on whether or not to arrest him. From Roh's point of view, almost 50 days passed while his nerves were on edge over the direction of the investigation and how he would be handled by law enforcement officials as the probe deepened. This must have put tremendous psychological pressure on him.

      The rights of defendants can be harmed by delaying stressful investigations. Prosecutors say they briefed the prosecutor general on May 4. But they had not even decided on whether to seek an arrest warrant. If Roh had been indicted without arrest, he would have been able to focus on his court battle, and if a decision had been made early on to arrest him, then he president would have at least been prevented from acting impulsively. Prosecutors say they need time to verify the charges, but they seem to have worried about public consensus rather than focusing on principles.

      And as the investigation got delayed, more charges were constantly leaked, including suspicions over the funding of the purchase of a lavish apartment in New York by Roh's daughter and the receipt of wristwatches costing W200 million (US$1=W1,247) by Roh and his wife. Such information harms the pride and dignity of the defendant.

      Prosecutors must feel humiliated when they are accused of failing to do their jobs properly each time a presidential bribery scandal surfaces after a leader's tenure has ended. We cannot therefore simply blame them for being overly zealous. But they must look back and make sure nothing was done excessively or there was anything they should have done differently. That review should not be limited to the investigation involving Roh but touch on the rights of tens of thousands of defendants who are investigated each year.

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