[EDITORIALS]Another suspect on the lam

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[EDITORIALS]Another suspect on the lam

A key figure in the Chin Seung-hyun bribery and fraud case has been found to have fled for the United States on Nov. 14. Kim Jae-hwan is a former National Intelligence Service official who served as chairman of MCI Korea, Mr. Chin's vehicle. It is incredible that the prosecution, which had gone to the hoopla of putting up a 10 million won ($7,600) reward for Mr. Kim's capture, did not know about his departure.

Mr. Kim was alleged during last year's investigations of the Chin case to have received 1.25 billion won ($945,000) from Mr. Chin to finance lobbying activities. For some reason, he was sentenced to just two years of probation for embezzlement, and was untouched by allegations of illegal lobbying. When media reports emerged on Nov. 13 that intelligence agents had asked him for an alleged list of lobbying targets, Mr. Kim apparently packed his bags and left. The order to bar his departure came two days later, long after he was in the United States.

It is hard to believe the prosecution's explanation that Mr. Kim must have fled because he guessed that the case against him would be reopened. It is also incredible that the prosecution had a special team working for more than 40 days to take him into custody, blithely unaware that he had already left. And how believable is the prosecution's announcement, made on the day it summoned Millennium Democratic Party lawmaker Kim Bang-rim for allegedly accepting 50 million won, that it cannot investigate Mr. Kim because of lack of custody?

When a case is thought to involve a powerful figure, the prosecution says the key figure is on the run. It happened in the Chung Hyun-joon fraud case and the case of another businessman, Lee Yong-ho. Some might see here a strategy of "chopping off the tail to protect the body."

The prosecution appears set to close the Chin case by indicting the persons nabbed so far. But if anything, the case should be stepped up now that suspicion has intensified with Mr. Kim's flight. Whether through Interpol or a call to U.S. authorities for extradition, the prosecution must secure Mr. Kim's custody. It should know by now that closing the Chin case in its present state will bring a wave of calls for special prosecutors.
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