[EDITORIALS]Not exactly up to parHigh-ranking prosecutors were found to have been part of a golf outing in September with Lee Hyung-taek, the former managing director of the Korea Deposit Insurance Corp. and the nephew of the first lady, Lee Hee-ho. Along with the former prosecutor general Shin Seung-nam, Kim Dae-woong, who was the head of the Seoul District Prosecutors' Office, and Rhee Beum-kwan, who now has Mr. Kim's job, were part of that outing. The revelation is especially disappointing as it comes amid the prosecution's effort to reform itself with a new leadership, including a reform-minded prosecutor general.
There is nothing inherently wrong with prosecutors playing golf. And the officials named in the recent outing have claimed that no conversation took place concerning Lee Yong-ho, who was convicted of fraud. They claim that the get-together took place before the scandal broke and was unrelated to the arrest of the businessman.
But too much about the entire affair reeks of suspicion. First, the officials tried to cloud the issue, rather than to be straight about their relationship with Lee Hyung-taek. If they had been indeed unaware of the ongoing conspiracy, then the right thing to do would have been to say so from the beginning. But their responses as soon as questions about the golf outing surfaced were "I don't have anything to say," "I don't remember," or "I may have met him once or twice at a class reunion."
And the timing of the outing is also extraordinary, since it took place on the day that Lee Yong-ho was arrested. By then, it has been established, Lee Yong-ho had been busy looking for anyone who might have been able to exert favorable influence for him. And because the independent counsel, not the prosecutors' office, revealed such crucial facts as the prosecution's less than comprehensive investigation of the Lee Yong-ho case, the special treatment given to Lee Hyung-taek and the alleged bribery of Mr. Shin's brother are disturbing. The golfers would be hard pressed to offer convincing explanations.
If an investigation finds that the prosecutors met to talk about the case, they would be subject to criminal punishment. Even if they did not, there are problems they have to clarify. Under any circumstances, it was not appropriate for high-ranking prosecutors to spend time with a relative of the president on the golf course. As much as we know about Lee Hyung-taek's misconduct and the lobbying to save Lee Yong-ho's cause, the senior prosecutors cannot be free of blame for what has gone wrong with the case.
By the nature of their job in sorting out the wrongdoing of defendants and seeking punishment for them, prosecutors must subscribe to the highest level of ethical standards. When the top ranks of the prosecution continue to be linked to corruption like this, the effect deals a detrimental blow to their integrity and to the trust that society needs to have in them. What kinds of leadership and trust can prosecutors command when their deeds are so rightfully criticized?
To ask subordinate prosecutors to uphold a sense of responsibility and ethics would be like the proverb "Walk straight, my son ?as the old crab said to the young crab." Ethics is what is most critically asked of today's prosecution. The new prosecutor general, Lee Myung-jae, stressed the importance of honor and ethics. We will be very interested to see whether and how the new leadership overcomes its first crisis.