[EDITORIALS]Lee Scandal Screams for Scrutiny

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[EDITORIALS]Lee Scandal Screams for Scrutiny

The news that Prosecutor General Shin Seung-nam's younger brother received 66 million won ($51,000) from Lee Yong-ho, chairman of the G&G business group who was detained earlier this month on charges of embezzlement and share price manipulation, is rattling the nation. The magnitude of the scandal and the number of people involved continue to snowball every day. There is now an allegation that Yeo Un-hwan, a close friend and a lobbyist, spent 10 billion won while lobbying high officials on behalf of Mr. Lee. In addition, a number of high-ranking ruling party and government officials are thought to have made between 300 million won and 1 billion won by investing in Mr. Lee's privately-established fund.

The fact that the prosecutor general's direct sibling received money from a criminal suspect at the center of a multifaceted scandal is shocking. Mr. Lee was released in May 2000 just a day after he was arrested. Mr. Shin's brother received the money over July and August of this year, just weeks before Mr. Lee was arrested again in September. It is reasonable therefore to conclude that Mr. Lee approached the prosecutor general's brother to protect himself. The fact that Mr. Shin's brother, not a professional in the job he was offered, was paid a whopping 8.3 million won a month and got an additional 50 million won merely for agreeing to work with Mr. Lee supports such a conjecture.

Mr. Shin said last week that his brother had refused Mr. Lee's offer. In retracting his statement later, Mr. Shin in effect explained that he believed his brother's lies. There is a possibility that Mr. Shin may not have known his brother's situation in detail and he may not be directly related to the incident. This is probably what Mr. Shin was referring to when he said he did not do anything wrong and was not responsible.

The prosecutor general is the face of the entire prosecutorial organization and he is at the helm of the hierarchy. The Supreme Public Prosecutor's Office is the most powerful law enforcement agency in the nation and the symbol of government authority. Since prosecutors sort out whether someone violated laws and since they seek appropriate punishment, public trust in them is essential. Therefore, the damage to the prosecutor general's reputation is not just a personal problem. In other words, the acceptance of money by Mr. Shin's brother is more than just a personal issue. Therefore, whether Mr. Shin stays in the office or not as a result of his brother's act should be considered from the perspective that the head of a key law enforcement official cannot be ridiculed by the public.

The establishment of a special auditing team outside the prosecutor general's influence is clearly a step forward. There was a precedent for such a team; special investigators searched the office of and detained a former assistant attorney in charge of the powerful Public Security Division at the Supreme Prosecutor's Office.

Many powerful officials at the prosecutor's office, the National Intelligence Service, the National Tax Service and the Financial Supervisory Service are implicated in the scandal. The Seoul District Prosecutor's Office decision to drop Mr. Lee's charges and let him go just a day after his arrest cannot be glossed over as resulting from hometown ties between prosecutors. The fact that Kim Tae-joung, a former prosecutor general, received 100 million won for providing legal counsel by phone on behalf of Mr. Lee makes us concerned. It is also a mystery how Mr. Lee could be released with merely a phone call by the former prosecutor general.

A thorough investigation should also take place regarding the official at the National Intelligence Service who released Mr. Lee and officials at the tax service and the financial watchdog who reportedly attempted to go easy on Mr. Lee's questionable dealings. The most important thing at this point is for the prosecutors to make a genuine and forceful commitment to conduct a thorough investigation. The new team should take lessons from a team of prosecutors toward the end of President Kim Young-sam's term in 1997 that detained and indicted the president's second son for corruption and for some time restored public trust in prosecutors.
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