[INSIGHT]A chance to redeem a reputationThe Korean people are urging that President Kim Dae-jung consent to a prosecutors' investigation of his three sons, who are allegedly involved in corruption. Last week, the president reluctantly apologized indirectly, through the Blue House spokeswoman, for his sons' troubles. The apology, however, did not include a promise that his sons would not be exceptions before the law.
But it is the prosecutors, not the president, who should make up their minds. Under the laws of the Republic of Korea, there is no clause stating that president's sons can be summoned and investigated only after the president agrees to let them be. The prosecutors should not take the president's feelings into account in deciding whether or not to conduct an investigation.
The problem is that such common-sense principles have been ignored here. Prosecutors have long pandered to those in power. In recent years, they have even taken sides with suspects and leaked information to them about investigations. Sometimes prosecutors have tried to cover up cases and have distorted the outcome of their probes.
In order to put an end to such disgusting practices by the prosecution, Lee Myung-jae was appointed as prosecutor general. His appointment, however, has not yet resolved everything; the people still feel some misgivings about the prosecutors office. The prosecutors still give the impression from time to time that they are taking their cues from those in power.
The people still whisper about conspiracy theories, implying that prosecutors have intervened in primary elections; other whispers say punishments have been meted out in the past at the behest of influential figures. If discipline were strictly enforced inside the prosecution, that talk would not be in the air.
Some people in power still believe that the prosecutors are under their thumbs. Some even believe that gagging the opposition party and the press will resolve the problems associated with the president's sons. Those people believe that spreading rumors about bribes to opposition party members will cancel out doubts about the president's sons, or stories about the sons will disappear if the press were gagged. That will not happen.
The prosecutors must make up their minds. Will they respect principles and do their jobs, or will they re-enact the actions of their disgraceful past? If the prosecutors investigate and punish, if necessary, the president's sons according to the law, the prosecutors' reputation will be restored. If they continue to look to the center of political power for their cues and compromise their investigations, it will be the end of any respect for the office. We will have to clean house and install an entirely new group of prosecutors.
The prosecutors have nowhere to run. It is natural that they are careful when investigating the president's sons. How can they possibly be carefree when questioning the sons of the man who has the power to appoint and promote them? Furthermore, the Blue House repeatedly said it will carefully observe the investigation, but did not say one word about the punishment to be meted out if the president's sons are proven guilty. Instead, newspapers devoted a great deal of space to the president's compassion for his sons. Taking account the situation, how can we blame the prosecutors for being dispirited?
The prosecutors have to remember that they are doomed if they step back. Their investigation must be careful and prudent; they should lay bare the true and prosecute wrongdoers according to the law. That principle must be respected at all costs. Many people say that regionalism and political influence still play important roles inside the prosecution. There may still be informants inside the prosecution, or it may still be possible that outside influences will intervene to try to thwart the investigations. The prosecutors should overcome those obstacles.
Fortunately, the situation is in their favor. The people's anger against the mounting revelations of corruption is at a high pitch. There has been a strong social consensus that slipshod investigations by the prosecution will not be tolerated. Inside the prosecution, many officials have vowed to carry out fair and legitimate investigations.
No one seems to be able to hinder the investigation at this point. The prosecutors should seize the fortunate opportunity that public opinion has given them. If they tread the right path, the prosecution will be saved and so will the law. The prosecutors will be able to tell their children and grandchildren proudly, "I was a prosecutor at that time."
They need courage and a sense of duty. They should understand the old saying that political power is transient, but the law endures forever.
The writer is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Song Chin-hyok