[EDITORIALS]Puzzling Ruling by Seoul High CourtGovernor Lim Chang-yuel of Kyonggi province, convicted on charges of receiving 100 million won ($74,000) from Kyonggi Bank officials, has had his conviction reversed by the Seoul High Court. The incumbent governor had been sentenced by a lower court to a suspended two-year jail term. The ruling by the Seoul High Court allows the governor to remain in his post as long as the ruling holds.
In acquitting Mr. Lim, the high court cited a lack of credible evidence. The court acknowledged that the governor did receive the money. But in the ruling it said that the money can not be considered as payment for providing favors to the bank. The court added that had the prosecutors charged Mr. Lim with violations of the Political Fund Act, it is likely the punishment would have stood. The trial's proceedings were marked by conflict between the high court and the prosecutors. The court asked the prosecution to rewrite the arraignment to indict the governor for violation of the Political Fund Act, instead of the bribery charge, but their request was rebuffed by the prosecution. Then the court presented a written letter requesting the same charge, only to be turned down again by the prosecution. In a society governed by laws, the ruling of a court should be respected at all times. To dispute a court ruling, which embodies a value of the highest good, would be doing disservice to the nation's judiciary.
However, there are several aspects of this case that must be pointed out. First, the ruling does not rest comfortably with legal sentiment and common sense. The claim that the local prosecutors arrested an incumbent governor affiliated with the ruling party without a thorough investigation, which thereby resulted in insufficient evidence, does not hold water. Anybody acquainted even slightly with the prosecution would find it difficult to swallow the court's claim that "the prosecution's excessive passion and commitment caused it to overlook objective facts of the case."
The court's ruling statement shows that the court did not admit as evidence the deposition submitted by the party that gave the money, the party that received the money and other witnesses. The court said that the depositions are not supported by court testimonies of the parties, in particular, Mr. Lim, and the available evidence. Mr. Lim testified in court that he was forced to cough up a confession under pressure. Nevertheless, it is shocking to see a court reject a deposition drafted in due course according to criminal litigation.
Another aspect that should be given considerable thought is the court's suggestion that the prosecution's refusal to rewrite the arraignment to indict the governor for violation of the Political Fund Act prevented it from finding the governor guilty. The High Court's request made to the prosecution smacks of a "compromise" settlement between judges and prosecutors, a practice that the Supreme Court discouraged in its "guidebook" for criminal litigations. The violation of Political Fund Act holds a lighter sentence in general. Moreover, the act is currently under review by the Constitutional Court.
It was unusual that the judges stepped outside after making the ruling to explain to the press their decision. It is an unwritten law and code of conduct that judges speak only through their rulings. Rarely, has the court eroded the credibility of the judiciary by stepping forward to publicly justify their decision, while criticizing the way prosecutors conducted the investigation. These are some of the reasons why we await with keen attention the ruling to be made by the Supreme Court in this case.