[EDITORIALS]Prosecution's Actions Were Illegal

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[EDITORIALS]Prosecution's Actions Were Illegal

A lawmaker said Monday that prosecutors requested information on the bank accounts of seven individuals suspected of stock price manipulation without obtaining court orders. The prosecutors reportedly sent letters asking for the data to the Financial Supervisory Service. The report is a shocking revelation that the prosecution, which is suppose to ensure that the nation's laws are followed and individual human rights protected, used expediency in an investigation.

The official letter, titled "Request for Cooperation in Investigation," was dated Feb. 22, 2001. The letter contained a sentence asking for the cooperation in an investigation into charges of stock price manipulation, elaborating on the duration of the investigation and the account numbers of the seven suspects. In the end, there is a sentence that says, "Accounts tracing should be confined to the above persons and questions and answers on the suspects are not necessary." The letter was issued under the name of the chief prosecutor of the Seoul District Public Prosecutor's Office, but it is more likely that the investing prosecutor made the decision to send it under his authority, based on the seal on the letter.

The prosecution contends that its actions were not illegal, citing operational provisions of the financial supervisory agency on securities and futures investigation that say the agency shall conduct investigations if government agencies, such as the prosecution, make the request. The prosecution also says the letter simply notified the financial agency of criminal intelligence that it had acquired. It said it did not ask the agency to track down bank accounts without warrants. In other words, the prosecution argues that its request to the supervisory agency to investigate suspects of stock price manipulation was a legitimate act.

It will not be a problem if the Financial Supervisory Service initiated the investigation and turned the case over to the prosecution, because the agency is authorized to conduct account tracking without warrants. But what really happened was the other way around. Taking a close look to the official letter, one gets the impression that the prosecution mobilized the agency in the initial stages of the investigation.

The guarantee of privacy in financial transactions is not only a basic right in democratic nations, but also an essential factor for sound economic development. The purpose of enacting laws that mandated people to use their real names when opening bank accounts was to guarantee privacy in financial transactions. The prosecution and the supervisory agency should know that defending their investigation through press releases is another misstep. The poor legal ground that the prosecution presented is nothing but an attempt to justify its fault.

We ask the government to use this opportunity to review the boundary of agencies that are entitled to track bank accounts without warrants as stipulated as an exception in the Real Name Financial Transactions Act.

If we look at the list of documents received by the Financial Supervisory Service, we would find several cases in which the Seoul district prosecutor's office asked for cooperation in an investigation. Regarding the explanation made by an official from the prosecution, it can be assumed that the prosecution has traced bank accounts as a practice. Therefore, the prosecution and the financial supervisory agency must reveal the truth candidly and accurately, and punish those responsible. That is the only way to prevent recurrence of illegal account tracking in the future.
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